Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
By John Stevens Cabot Abbott (18051877)
[Born in Brunswick, Me., 1805. Died at Fair Haven, Conn., 1877. The History of Napoleon Bonaparte. 1855.]
NAPOLEON entered his tent, and retired to that part where he slept, which was separated by a partition of cloth from the portion which was occupied by the aids in attendance. Fatigue and anxiety had brought on a feverish irritation and violent thirst, which he in vain endeavored to quench during the night. His anxiety was so great that he could not sleep. He expressed great solicitude for the exhausted and destitute condition of his soldiers, and feared that they would hardly have strength to support the terrible conflict of the next day. In this crisis, he looked upon his well-trained guard as his main resource. He sent for Bessières, who had command of the Guard, and inquired with particularity respecting their wants and their supplies. He directed that these old soldiers should have three days biscuit and rice distributed among them from their wagons of reserve. Apprehensive lest his orders might be neglected, he got up, and inquired of the grenadiers on guard at the entrance of his tent if they had received these provisions. Returning to his tent, he fell again into a broken sleep. Not long after, an aid, having occasion to speak to the Emperor, found him sitting up in his bed, supporting his fevered head with both of his hands, absorbed in painful musings. He appeared much dejected.
What is war? he said, sadly. It is a trade of barbarians. The great art consists in being the strongest on a given point. A great day is at hand. The battle will be a terrible one. I shall lose twenty thousand men.
He had been suffering during the preceding day excruciating pain. When riding along he had been observed to dismount frequently, and, resting his head against a cannon, to remain there for some time in an attitude of suffering. He was afflicted temporarily with a malady, induced by fever, fatigue, and anxiety, which, perhaps, more than any other, prostrates moral and physical strength. A violent and incessant cough cut short his breathing.
As soon as the first dawn of light was seen in the east, Napoleon was on horseback, surrounded by his generals. The energies of his mind triumphed over his bodily sufferings. The vapors of a stormy night were passing away, and soon the sun rose in unclouded brilliance. Napoleon smiled, and, pointing toward it, exclaimed, Behold the sun of Austerlitz! The cheering words flew with telegraphic speed along the French lines, and were everywhere received with enthusiastic acclamations. Napoleon stood upon one of the heights of Borodino, scrutinizing the field of battle and the immense columns of Russian troops, in long black masses, moving to and fro over the plain. Though accompanied by but a few attendants, in order to avoid attracting the enemys fire, he was observed by the Russians. The immediate discharge of a battery broke the silence of the scene, and the first shot which was to usher in that day of blood whistled through the group.
Napoleon then gave the signal for the onset. A terrific peal of echoing thunder instantaneously burst from the plain. The horrid carnage of horrid war commenced. Three hundred thousand men, with all the most formidable enginery of destruction, fell upon each other. From five oclock in the morning until the middle of the afternoon, the tides of battle rapidly ebbed and flowed in surges of blood. Davoust was struck from his horse by a cannon-ball, which tore the steed to pieces. As he was plunged, headlong and stunned upon the gory plain, word was conveyed to the Emperor that the marshal was dead. He received the disastrous tidings in sad silence. But the wounded marshal soon rose from the ground, mounted another horse, and intelligence was sent to the Emperor that the Prince of Eckmuhl was again at the head of his troops. God be praised, Napoleon cried out with fervor.
General Rapp received four wounds. A ball finally struck him on the hip, and hurled him from his horse. He was carried bleeding from the field. This was the twenty-second wound which General Rapp had received. Napoleon hastened to see his valiant friend. As he kindly took his hand, he said, Is it always, then, your turn to be wounded!
Napoleon had with him a young officer, to whom he was strongly attached, Count Augustus Caulaincourt, brother of Caulaincourt, the Duke of Vicenza. During the anxious night before the battle this young man did not close his eyes. Wrapped in his cloak, he threw himself on the floor of his tent, with his eyes fixed upon the miniature of his young bride, whom he had left but a few days after their marriage. In the heat of the battle, Count Caulaincourt stood by the side of the Emperor awaiting his orders. Word was brought that General Montbrun, who had been ordered to attack a redoubt, was killed. Count Caulaincourt was immediately instructed to succeed him. As he put spurs to his horse, he said, I will be at the redoubt immediately, dead or alive.
He was the first to surmount the parapet. At that moment a musketball struck him dead. He had hardly left the side of the Emperor ere intelligence was brought of his death. The brother of the unfortunate young man was standing near, deeply afflicted. Napoleon, whose heart was touched with sympathetic grief, moved to his side, and said, in a low tone of voice, You have heard the intelligence. If you wish, you can retire. The Duke, in speechless grief, lifted his hat and bowed, declining the offer. The mangled remains of the noble young man were buried in the blood-red redoubt on the field of Borodino.
Thus all day long tidings of victory and of death were reaching the ears of the Emperor. With melancholy resignation he listened to the recital of courier after courier, still watching with an eagle eye, and guiding with unerring skill the tremendous energies of battle. From the moment the conflict commenced, his plan was formed, and he entertained no doubt whatever of success. During the whole day he held in reserve the troops of the Imperial Guard, consisting of about 20,000 men, refusing to allow them to enter into the engagement. When urged by Berthier, in a moment of apparently fearful peril, to send them forward to the aid of his hard-pressed army, he replied calmly, No! the battle can be won without them. And what if there should be another battle to-morrow?
Again, in the midst of the awful carnage, when the issues of the strife seemed to tremble in the balance, and he was pressed to march his indomitable Guard into the plain, he quietly replied, The hour of this battle is not yet come. It will begin in two hours more.
The well-ordered movements of Napoleons massive columns pressed more and more heavily upon the Russians. Each hour some new battery opened its destructive fire upon their bewildered and crowded ranks. The Russians had commenced fighting behind their intrenchments. The French, more active and perfectly disciplined, rushed upon the batteries, and, trampling their dying and dead beneath their feet, poured like an inundation over the ramparts. Gradually the surges of battle rolled toward the great redoubt. At last all the fury of the conflict seemed concentred there. Behind, and upon those vast intrenchments, one hundred thousand men were struggling. Dense volumes of sulphurous smoke enveloped the combatants. Incessant flashes of lightning, accompanied by a continuous roar of deafening thunder, burst from this cloud of war. Within its midnight gloom, horsemen, infantry, and artillery rushed madly upon each other. They were no longer visible. Napoleon gazed calmly and silently upon that terrible volcano, in the hot furnace of whose crater fires his troops, with the energies of desperation, were contending. The struggle was short. Soon the flames were quenched in blood. The awful roar of battle abated. The passing breeze swept away the smoke; and the glittering helmets of the French cuirassiers gleamed through the embrasures, and the proud eagles of France fluttered over the gory bastions.