6: The Earthquake of Napoleonism
<< 5: The World's Greatest War || 7: Pan-Slavism Versus Pan-Germanism >>
Its Effect on National conditions Finally Led to the War of 1914
When, after a weary climb, we find ourselves on the summit of a
lofty mountain, and look back from that commanding altitude over
the ground we have traversed, what is it that we behold? The
minor details of the scenery, many of which seemed large and
important to us as we passed, are now lost to view, and we see
only the great and imposing features of the landscape, the high
elevations, the town-studded valleys, the deep and winding
streams, the broad forests. It is the same when, from the summit
of an age, we gaze backward over the plain of time. The myriad of
petty happenings are lost to sight, and we see only the striking
events, the critical epochs, the mighty crises through which the
world has passed. These are the things that make true history,
not the daily doings in the king's palace or the peasant's hut.
What we should seek to observe and store up in our memories are
the turning points in human events, the great thoughts which have
ripened into noble deeds, the hands of might which have pushed
the world forward in its career; not the trifling occurrences
which signify nothing, the passing actions which have borne no
fruit in human affairs. It is with such turning points, such
critical periods in modern history, that we are here dealing; not
to picture the passing bubbles on the stream of time, but to
point out the great ships which have sailed up that stream laden
with a noble freight. This is history in its deepest and best
aspect, and we have set our camera to photograph only the men who
have made and the events which constitute history in the phase
The first fifteen years of the nineteenth century in Europe yield
us the history of a man rather than of a continent. France was
the center of Europe; Napoleon, the Corsican, was the center of
France. All the affairs of all the nations seemed to gather
around this genius of war. He was respected, feared, hated; he
had risen with the suddenness of a thunder-cloud on a clear
horizon, and flashed the lightnings of victory in the dazzled
eyes of the nations. All the events of the period were
concentrated into one great event, and the name of that event was
Napoleon. He seemed incarnate war, organized destruction; sword
in hand, he dominated the nations, and victory sat on his banners
with folded wings. He was, in a full sense, the man of destiny,
and Europe was his prey.
Never has there been a more wonderful career. The earlier great
conquerors began life at the top; Napoleon began his at the
bottom. Alexander was a king; Caesar was an aristocrat of the
Roman republic; Napoleon rose from the people, and was not even a
native of the land which became the scene of his exploits. Pure
force of military genius lifted him from the lowest to the
highest place among mankind, and for long and terrible years
Europe shuddered at his name and trembled beneath the tread of
his marching legions. As for France, he brought it glory and left
it ruin and dismay.
The career of Napoleon Bonaparte began in a very modest way. Born
in Corsica and trained in a military school in France, his native
ability as a man of action was first made evident in 1794, when,
under the orders of the National Convention, he quelled the mob
of Paris with loaded cannon and put a final end to the Reign of
Terror that had long prevailed.
Placed at the head of the French army in Italy, Napoleon quickly
astonished the world by a series of the most brilliant victories,
defeating the Austrians and the Sardinians wherever he met them,
seizing Venice, the city of the lagoon, and forcing almost all
Italy to submit to his arms. A republic was established here and
a new one in Switzerland, while Belgium and the left bank of the
Rhine were held by France.
His wars here at an end, Napoleon's ambition led him to Egypt,
inspired by great designs which he failed to realize. In his
absence anarchy arose in France. The five Directors, then at the
head of the government, had lost all authority, and Napoleon, who
had unexpectedly returned, did not hesitate to overthrow them and
the Assembly which supported them. A new government, with three
Consuls at its head, was formed, Napoleon, as First Consul,
holding almost royal power. Thus France stood in 1800, at the end
of the eighteenth century.
CONDITIONS IN FRANCE AND GERMANY
In the remainder of Europe there was nothing to compare with the
momentous convulsion which had taken place in France. England had
gone through its two revolutions more than a century before, and
its people were the freest of any in Europe. Recently it had lost
its colonies in America, but it still held in that continent the
broad domain of Canada, and was building for itself a new empire
in India, while founding colonies in twenty other lands. In
commerce and manufactures it entered the nineteenth century as
the greatest nation on the earth. The hammer and the loom
resounded from end to end of the island, mighty centers of
industry arose where cattle had grazed a century before, coal and
iron were being torn in great quantities from the depths of the
earth, and there seemed everywhere an endless bustle and whirr.
The ships of England haunted all seas and visited the most remote
ports, laden with the products of her workshops and bringing back
raw material for her factories and looms. Wealth accumulated,
London became the money market of the world, the riches and
prosperity of the island kingdom were growing to be a parable
among the nations of the earth.
On the continent of Europe, Prussia, destined in time to become
great, had recently emerged from its medieval feebleness, mainly
under the powerful hand of Frederick the Great, whose reign
extended until 1786, and whose ambition, daring, and military
genius made him a fitting predecessor of Napoleon the Great, who
so soon succeeded him in the annals of war. Unscrupulous in his
aims, this warrior king had torn Silesia from Austria, added to
his kingdom a portion of unfortunate Poland, annexed the
principality of East Friesland, and lifted Prussia into a leading
position among the European states.
Germany, now - with the exception of Austria - a compact empire,
was then a series of disconnected states, variously known as
kingdoms, principalities, margravates, electorates, and by other
titles, the whole forming the so-called Holy Empire, though it
was "neither holy nor an empire." It had drifted down in this
fashion from the Middle Ages, and the work of consolidation had
but just begun, in the conquests of Frederick the Great. A host
of petty potentates ruled the land, whose states, aside from
Prussia and Austria, were too weak to have a voice in the
councils of Europe. Joseph II, the titular emperor of Germany,
made an earnest and vigorous effort to combine its elements into
a powerful unit; but he signally failed, and died in 1790, a
disappointed and embittered man.
Austria, then far the most powerful of the German states, was
from 1740 to 1780 under the reign of a woman, Maria Theresa, who
struggled in vain against her ambitious neighbor, Frederick the
Great, his kingdom being extended ruthlessly at the expense of
her imperial dominions. Austria remained a great country,
however, including Bohemia and Hungary among its domains. It was
lord of Lombardy and Venice in Italy, but was destined to play an
unfortunate part in the coming Napoleonic wars.
We have briefly epitomized Napoleon's early career, his doings in
the Revolution, in Italy, and in Egypt, unto the time that
France's worship of his military genius raised him to the rank of
First Consul, and gave him in effect the power of a king. No one
dared question his word, the army was at his beck and call, the
nation lay prostrate at his feet - not in fear but in admiration.
Such was the state of affairs in France in the closing year of
the eighteenth century. The Revolution was at an end, the
Republic existed only as a name; Napoleon was the autocrat of
France and the terror of Europe. From this point we resume the
story of his career.
The First Consul began his reign with two enemies in the field,
England and Austria. Prussia was neutral, and he had won the
friendship of Paul, the emperor of Russia, by a shrewd move.
While the other nations refused to exchange the Russian prisoners
they held, Napoleon sent home 6,000 of these captives, newly clad
and armed, under their own leaders, and without demanding ransom.
This was enough to win to his side the weak-minded Paul, whose
delight in soldiers he well knew.
Napoleon now had but two enemies in arms to deal with. He wrote
letters to the king of England and the emperor of Austria,
offering peace. The answers were cold and insulting, asking
France to take back her Bourbon kings and return to her old
boundaries. Nothing remained but war. Napoleon prepared it with
his usual rapidity, secrecy, and keenness of judgment.
THE CAMPAIGN IN ITALY
There were two French armies in the field in the spring of 1800,
Moreau commanding in Germany, Massena in Italy. Switzerland,
which was occupied by the French, divided the armies of the
enemy, and Napoleon determined to take advantage of the
separation of their forces, and strike an overwhelming blow. He
sent word to Moreau and Massena to keep the enemy in check at any
cost, and secretly gathered a third army, whose corps were
dispersed here and there, while the Powers of Europe were aware
only of the army of reserve at Dijon, made up of conscripts and
invalids. All was ready for the great movement which Napoleon had
Twenty centuries before, Hannibal had led his army across the
great mountain barrier of the Alps, and poured down like an
avalanche upon the fertile plains of Italy. The Corsican
determined to repeat this brilliant achievement and emulate
Hannibal's career. Several passes across the mountains seemed
favorable to his purpose, especially those of the St. Bernard,
the Simplon and Mount Cenis. Of these the first was the most
difficult; but it was much the shorter, and Napoleon determined
to lead the main body of his army over this ice-covered mountain
pass, despite its dangers and difficulties. The enterprise was
one to deter any man less bold than Hannibal or Napoleon, but it
was welcome to the hardihood and daring of these men, who
rejoiced in the seemingly impossible and spurned faltering at
hardships and perils.
The task of the Corsican was greater than that of the
Carthaginian. He had cannon to transport, while Hannibal's men
carried only swords and spears. But the genius of Napoleon was
equal to the task. The cannon were taken from their carriages and
placed in the hollowed-out trunks of trees, which could be
dragged with ropes over the ice and snow. Mules were used to draw
the gun-carriages and the wagon-loads of food and munitions of
war. Stores of provisions had been placed at suitable points
along the road.
The sudden appearance of the French in Italy was an utter
surprise to the Austrians. They descended like a torrent into the
valley, seized Ivry, and five days after reaching Italy met and
repulsed an Austrian force. The divisions which had crossed by
other passes one by one joined Napoleon. On June 9th Marshal
Lannes met and defeated the Austrians at Montebello, after a hot
engagement. "I heard the bones crackle like a hailstorm on the
roofs," he said. On the 14th, the two armies met on the plain of
Marengo, and one of the most famous of Napoleon's battles began.
THE VICTORY AR MARENGO
Napoleon was not ready for the coming battle, and was taken by
surprise. He had been obliged to break up his army in order to
guard all the passages open to the enemy. Suddenly attacked and
taken by surprise, his army was defeated and driven back in
retreat in the first stage of the battle. But Napoleon was not
the man to accept defeat. Hurrying up Desaix, one of his most
trusted generals, with his corps, he flung these fresh troops
upon the enemy, following up the assault with the dragoons of
Kellermann. The result was a disastrous rout of the Austrians,
who were driven from the field, leaving thousands of dead, and
other thousands of prisoners in the hands of the enemy.
A few days afterwards on the 19th, Moreau in Germany won a
brilliant victory at Hockstadt, near Blemheim, took 5,000
prisoners and twenty pieces of cannon, and forced from the
Austrians an armed truce which left him master of South Germany.
A still more momentous armistice was signed by Melas in Italy, by
which the Austrians surrendered Piedmont, Lombardy, and all their
territory as far as the Mincio, leaving France master of Italy.
MOREAU AT HOHENLINDEN
What followed must be briefly detailed. Only a truce, not a
peace, had followed the victories of Napoleon and Moreau, and
five months later, Austria refusing to make peace without the
concurrence of England, the war began again. Moreau winning
another famous victory on the plains of Hohenlinden, the
Austrians losing 8,000 in killed and wounded and 12,000 in
Moreau advanced to Vienna, where the emperor was forced to sign
an armistice, giving up to France the valley of the Danube, the
country of the Tyrol, a number of fortresses and large magazines
of war material. This truce was followed by a peace in February,
1801. It was one that left Napoleon the idol of France, the
terror of Europe, and the admiration of the world. He had proved
himself the mate of Caesar and Alexander as a conqueror.
THE CONSUL MADE EMPEROR
The events that followed must be briefly epitomized. For nearly
the only time in his career Napoleon had a period of peace. In
this he showed himself an autocratic but able ruler, making
himself king in everything but name, restoring the old court
customs and etiquette, but not interfering with the liberties and
privileges which the people had won by the Revolution. Feudalism
had been definitely overthrown and Napoleon's supremacy in the
state was one that recognized the popular freedom.
The culmination of Napoleon's ambition came in 1804, when he
followed the example of Caesar, the Roman conqueror, seeking the
crown as a reward for his victories. Like Caesar, he had his
enemies, but, more fortunate than Caesar, he escaped their plots
and was elected Emperor of the French by an almost unanimous vote
of the people. The Pope was obliged to come to Paris at the fiat
of the new autocrat and to anoint him as emperor, the sanction of
the Church being thus given to his new dignity. His empire was
one founded upon modern ideas, one called into existence by the
votes of a free people, not resting upon the necks of a nation of
THE CODE NAPOLEON
During his brief respite from war Napoleon's activity was great,
his statesmanship notable. Great public works, monuments to his
glory, were constructed, wide schemes of public improvement were
entered upon, and important changes were made in the financial
system that provided the great sums needed for these enterprises.
The most important of these evidences of intellectual activity
was the Code Napoleon, the first organized code of French law and
still the basis of jurisprudence in France. This, first
promulgated in 1801 as the civil code of France, had its title
changed to Code Napoleon in 1804, and as such stands as one of
the greatest monuments to the mental capacity of this
The period of peace during which these events took place was one
of brief endurance. It practically ended in 1803, when Great
Britain, Napoleon's most persistent foe, again declared war. But
actual war did not begin until two years later.
The Emperor's role in this period was one of threat. England had
been invaded and conquered from France once before. It might be
again. Like William of Normandy, Napoleon prepared a large fleet
and strong army and threatened an invasion of the island kingdom.
This might possibly have been successful but for the shrewd
policy of William Pitt, the British Prime Minister, who organized
a coalition of Napoleon's enemies in Europe which gave him a new
use for his army.
CAMPAIGN OF 1805
The coalition embraced Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden and
Norway, with Great Britain at their back. The bold Corsican had
roused nearly all Europe against him. He dealt with it in his
usual alert and successful manner.
Quick as were his enemies to come into the field, they were not
quick enough for their vigilant foe. The army prepared for the
invasion of England was at once set in motion towards the Rhine,
and was handled with such skill as to surround at Ulm the
Austrian army under General Mack and force its surrender.
This took place in October. On the 1st of December the two armies
(92,000 of the allies to 70,000 French) came face to face on the
field of Austerlitz, where on the following day was to be fought
one of the world's most memorable battles.
BATTLE OF AUSTERLITZ
The Emperor Alexander had joined Francis of Austria, and the two
monarchs with their staff officers, occupied the castle and
village of Austerlitz. Their troops hastened to occupy the
plateau of Pratzen, which Napoleon had designedly left free. His
plans of battle were already fully made. He had, with the
intuition of genius, foreseen the probable maneuvers of the
enemy, and had left open for them the position which he wished
them to occupy. He even announced their movement in a
proclamation to his troops.
"The positions that we occupy are formidable," he said, "and
while the enemy march to turn my right they will present to me
This movement to the right was indeed the one that had been
decided upon by the allies, with the purpose of cutting off the
road to Vienna by isolating numerous corps dispersed in Austria
and Styria. It had been shrewdly divined by Napoleon in choosing
He held his own men in readiness while the line of the enemy
deployed. The sun was rising, its rays gleaming through a mist,
which dispersed as it rose higher. It now poured its brilliant
beams across the field, the afterward famous "sun of Austerlitz."
The movement of the allies had the effect of partly withdrawing
their troops from the plateau of Pratzen. At a signal from the
emperor the strongly concentrated center of the French army moved
forward in a dense mass, directing their march towards the
plateau, which they made all haste to occupy. They had reached
the foot of the hill before the rising mist revealed them to the
The two emperors watched the movement without divining its
intent. "See how the French climb the height without staying to
reply to our fire," said Prince Czartoryski, who stood near them.
They were soon to learn why their fire was disdained. The allied
force, pierced in its center by the French, was flung back in
disorder and on all sides broke into a disorderly retreat. The
slaughter was frightful. One division, cut off from the army,
threw down its arms and surrendered. Two columns rushed upon the
ice of a frozen lake. Upon this the fire of the French cannon was
turned, the ice splintered and gave way beneath their feet and
thousands of the despairing troops perished in the freezing
waters. Of the whole army only one corps left the field in order
of battle. More than 30,000 prisoners, including twenty generals,
remained in Napoleon's hands, and with them a hundred and twenty
pieces of cannon and forty flags. Thus ended the most famous of
The victory of Austerlitz left Germany in Napoleon's hands, and
the remodeling of the map of Europe was one of the greatest that
has ever taken place at any one time. Kingdoms were formed and
placed under Napoleon's brothers or favorite generals. His
changes in the states of Germany were numerous and radical. Those
of south and west Germany were organized into the Confederation
of the Rhine, under his protection. Many of the small
principalities were suppressed and their territories added to the
larger states. As to the "Holy Roman Empire," a once powerful
organization which had long since sunk into a mere shadow, it
finally ceased to exist. The empire of France was extended by
these and other changes until is spread over Italy, the
Netherlands and the south and west of Germany.
Changes so great as these could scarcely be made without exciting
bitter opposition. Prussia had been seriously affected by
Napoleon's map-making, and in the end its king, Frederick
William, became so exasperated that he broke off all
communication with France and began to prepare for war.
THE CONQUEST OF PRUSSIA
It is by no means impossible that Napoleon had been working for
this. It is certain that he was quick to take advantage of it.
While the Prussian king was slowly collecting his troops and war
material, the veterans of France were already on the march and
approaching the borders of Prussia. The hasty levies of
"Frederick William were no match for the war-hardened French, the
Russians failed to come to their aid, and on the 4th of October,
1806, the two armies met at Jena.
The Prussians proved incapable of withstanding the impetuous
attack of the French and were soon broken and in panic and
flight. Nothing could stop them. Reinforcements coming up, 20,000
in number, were thrown across their path, but in vain, being
swept away by the fugitives and pushed back by the triumphant
At the same time another battle was in progress near Auerstadt
between Marshal Davoust and the forces of the Duke of Brunswick.
This, too, ended in victory for the French. The king had been
with the duke and was borne back by the flying host, the two
bodies of fugitives finally coalescing. In that one fatal day
Frederick William had lost his army and placed his kingdom in
jeopardy. "They can do nothing but gather up the debris," said
The occupation of Berlin, the Prussian capital, quickly followed,
and the war ended with new map-making which greatly reduced the
influence of Prussia as a European Power.
THE INVASION OF POLAND
Russia was still in arms, and occupied Poland. Thither the
victorious French now advanced, making Warsaw, the Polish
capital, the goal of their march. The Russians were beaten and
forced back in every battle, and the Poles, hoping to regain
their lost liberties, gladly rose in aid of the invader. But the
French army found itself exposed to serious privations. The
country was a frozen desert, incapable of supplying food for an
army. The wintry chill and the desolate character of the country
seriously interfered with Napoleon's plans, the troops being
obliged to make their way through thick and rain-soaked forests,
and march over desolate and marshy plains. The winter of the
north fought against them like a strong army and many of them
fell dead without a battle. Warlike movements became almost
impossible to the troops of the south, though the hardy
northerners, accustomed to the climate, continued their military
EYLAU AND FRIEDLAND
By the end of January the Russian army was evidently approaching
in force, and immediate action became necessary. The cold
increased. The mud was converted into ice. On January 30, 1807,
Napoleon left Warsaw and marched in search of the enemy. General
Benningsen retreated, avoiding battle, and on the 7th of February
entered the small town of Eylau, from which his troops were
pushed by the approaching French. He encamped outside the town,
the French in and about it; it was evident that a great battle
was at hand.
The weather was cold. Snow lay thick upon the ground and still
fell in great flakes. A sheet of ice covering some small lakes
formed part of the country upon which the armies were encamped,
but was thick enough to bear their weight. It was a chill,
inhospitable country to which the demon of war had come.
Before daybreak on the 8th Napoleon was in the streets of Eylau,
forming his line of battle for the coming engagement. Soon the
artillery of both armies opened, and a rain of cannon balls began
to decimate the opposing ranks. The Russian fire was concentrated
on the town, which was soon in flames. That of the French was
directed against a hill which the emperor deemed it important to
occupy. The two armies, nearly equal in numbers, - the French
having 75,000 to the Russian 70,000 - were but a short distance
apart, and the slaughter from the fierce cannonade was terrible.
Nature, which had so far acted to check the advance of the French
in Poland, now threatened their defeat and destruction. A
snow-fall began, so thick and dense that the armies lost sight of
each other, the French columns losing their way in the gloom.
When the snow ceased, after a half-hour's fall, the French army
was in a critical position. It was in a wandering and
disorganized state, while the Russians were on the point of
executing a vigorous turning movement.
Yet the genius of Napoleon turned the scale. He ordered a grand
charge of all the cavalry of his army, driving the Russians back,
occupying a hilly ground in their rear, and in the end handling
them so vigorously that a final retreat began.
Thus ended the most indecisive of Napoleon's victories, one which
had almost been a defeat and which left both armies so exhausted
that months passed before either was in condition to resume the
war. It was the month of June before the armies were again put in
motion. Now the wintry desolation was replaced by a scene of
green woodland, shining lakes and attractive villages, the
conditions being far more favorable for warlike operations.
On June 13th the armies again met, this time at the town of
Friedland, on the River Alle, in the vicinity of Konigsberg,
toward which the Russians were marching. Here Benningsen, the
Russian general, had incautiously concentrated his troops within
a bend of the river, a tactical mistake of which Napoleon
hastened to take advantage.
General Ney fought his way into the town and took the bridges,
while the main force of the French marched upon the entrapped
enemy, who met with complete defeat, many being killed on the
field, many more drowned in the river. Konigsberg, the prize of
victory, was quickly occupied by the French, Prussia the ally of
Russia, thus losing all its area except the single town of Memel.
The result was disastrous to the Prussian king, who was forced to
yield more than half his kingdom.
Louisa, the beautiful queen of Frederick William of Prussia, had
an interview with Napoleon and earnestly sought to induce him to
mitigate his harsh terms. In vain she brought to bear upon him
all her powers of persuasion and attractive charm of manner. He
continued cold and obdurate and she left Tilsit deeply mortified
If Napoleon had come near defeat in the campaign of 1807, he came
much nearer in that of 1809, in which his long career of victory
was for a time diversified by an example of defeat, from the
consequences of which only his indomitable energy saved him. And
this was at the hands of the Austrians, who had so often met with
defeat and humiliation at his hands.
In 1808 the defeat of his armies in Spain by the people organized
into guerilla bands forced him to take command there in person.
He defeated the insurgents wherever met, took the city of
Saragossa and replaced his brother Joseph on the throne. Then the
outbreak of war in Austria called him away and he was forced to
leave Spain for later attention.
CAMPAIGN OF 1809
The declaration of war by Austria arose from indignation at the
arbitrary acts of the conqueror, this growing so intense that in
April 1809, a new declaration was made and new armies called into
The French campaign was characterized by the usual rapidity. But
on this occasion the Archduke Charles, who led the Austrians,
proved equally rapid, and was in the field so quickly that the
widely-spread French army was for a time in imminent danger of
being cut in two by the alert enemy.
Only a brief hesitation on the part of the Archduke saved the
French from this peril. They concentrated with the utmost haste,
forced the Austrians back, and captured a large number of
prisoners and cannon. In Italy, on the contrary, the Austrians,
were victorious, but the rapid advance of Napoleon towards Vienna
caused their recall and the campaign became a race for the
capital of Austria. In this Napoleon succeeded, the garrison
yielding the city to his troops.
Meanwhile the Archdukes Charles and John, the latter in command
of the army from Italy, were marching hastily towards the
opposite side of the Danube. Napoleon, seeking to strike a blow
before a junction between the armies could be made, crossed the
river by the aid of bridges thrown from the island of Lobau and
occupied the villages of Aspern and Essling.
This was done on May 20th, but during that night the strong
current of the river carried away the bridge, leaving the French
in a perilous situation. On the afternoon of the 21st the entire
Austrian army, 70,000 to 80,000 strong, attacked the French in
the two villages, who held their posts only with the greatest
By dawn of the 21st more than 70,000 French had crossed, but at
this critical interval the bridge again gave way, broken by the
fireships and the stone-laden boats sent by the Austrians down
the swift current. The struggle went on all day, the bridge being
again built and again broken, and at night the French, cut off
from their supply of ammunition, were forced to retreat.
Napoleon, for the first time in his career, had met with defeat.
More than 40,000 dead and wounded lay on that fatal field, among
them the brilliant Marshal Lannes, one of Napoleon's ablest aids.
VICTORY AT WAGRAM
Napoleon, however, had no thought of yielding his hold upon
Vienna. He brought forward new troops with all haste, until by
July 1st he had an army of 150,000 men. The Austrian army had
also been augmented and now numbered 135,000 or 140,000 men. They
had fortified the positions of the recent battle, expecting a new
attack in that quarter.
But of this Napoleon had no intention. He had selected the
heights from Neusiedl to Wagram, occupied by the Austrians, but
not fortified by them, as a more favorable point, and during the
night of July 4th he threw fresh bridges from Lobau to the main
land and set in motion the strong force occupying the island.
This moved against the heights of Wagram, occupying Aspern and
Essling in its advance.
The battle of the next day was one of desperate fury. Finally the
height was gained, giving the French the key of the battlefield.
The Archduke Charles looked in vain for the army under his
brother John, which failed to appear, and, assailed at every
point, was obliged to order a retreat. But this was no rout. The
retreat was conducted slowly and in battle array. Both the
Russians and the Austrians were proving worthy antagonists of the
great Corsican. Further hostilities were checked by a truce,
preliminary to a treaty of peace, signed October 14, 1809.
Ambition, unrestrained by caution, uncontrolled by moderation,
has its inevitable end. An empire built upon victory, trusting
solely to military genius, prepared for itself the elements of
its overthrow. This fact Napoleon was to learn. In the outset of
his career he opposed a new art of war to the obsolete one of his
enemies, and his path to empire was over the corpses of
slaughtered armies and the ruins of fallen kingdoms. But year by
year his foes learned his art, in war after war their resistance
grew more stringent, each successive victory was won with more
difficulty and at greater cost, and finally, at the crossing of
the Danube, the energy and genius of Napoleon met their equal,
and the standards of France, for the first time under Napoleon's
leadership, went back in defeat. It was the tocsin of fate. His
career of victory had culminated. From that day its decline
THE CAMPAIGN IN SPAIN
The second check to Napoleon's triumphant career came from one of
the weaker nations of Europe, aided by the British under a
commander of renown. Napoleon, as already stated, after
overturning Spain had been called away by the Austrian war. This
ended by the treaty of peace, he filled Spain once more with his
veterans, increasing the strength of the army there to 300,000
men, under his ablest generals, Soult, Massena, Ney, Marmont,
Macdonald and others. They marched through Spain from end to end,
yet, though they held all the salient points, the people refused
to submit, but from their mountain fastnesses kept up a petty and
Massena invaded Portugal in 1811, but here he was faced by
General Wellington, leading a British army, and was forced to
retreat. Soult, who followed him, was equally unsuccessful, and
when Napoleon in 1812 depleted his army in Spain for the Russian
campaign, Wellington marched his army into Spain and, aided by
the Spanish patriots, took possession of Madrid, driving King
Joseph from his throne.
THE INVASION OF RUSSIA
Meanwhile Napoleon had entered upon the greatest and most
disastrous campaign in his history. Defied by Alexander I, Czar
of Russia, he had declared war upon that empire and sought its
conquest with the greatest army that ever marched under his
banners. On the banks of the Niemen, a river that flows between
Prussia and Poland, there gathered near the end of June 1812, an
immense army of more than 600,000 men, attended by an enormous
multitude of non-combatants, their purpose being the invasion of
the empire of Russia. Of this great army, made up of troops from
half the nations of Europe, there reappeared six months later on
that broad stream about 16,000 armed men, almost all that were
left of that stupendous host. The remainder had perished on the
desert soil or in the frozen rivers of Russia, few of them
surviving as prisoners in Russian hands. Such was the character
of the dread catastrophe that broke the power of the mighty
conqueror and delivered Europe from his autocratic grasp.
We cannot give the details of this fatal campaign, and shall only
summarize its chief incidents. Barclay de Tolly, Alexander's
commander in chief, adopted a Fabian policy, that of persistently
avoiding battle, and keeping the French in pursuit of a fleeting
will-of-the-wisp while their army wasted away from hardship and
disease in the inhospitable Russian clime.
His method was a wise one, desertion, illness, death of the
untrained recruits in rapid march under the hot midsummer sun,
did the work of many battles, and when Smolensk was reached after
two months of bootless marching, the "Grand Army" was bound to
have been reduced to half its numbers.
Moscow, the old capital of the Empire, was Napoleon's goal. He
felt sure that the occupation of that city would bring the
Russians to bay and force them to accept terms of peace. He was
sadly mistaken. The Russians, weary of retreating, faced him in
one battle, that of Borodino. Here they fought stubbornly, but
with the usual result. They could not stand against the impetuous
dash of Napoleon's veterans and were forced to retreat, leaving
40,000 dead and wounded upon the field. But the French army had
lost more than 30,000, including an unusual number of generals,
two being killed and thirty-nine wounded.
A FATAL RETREAT
On the 15th of September, Moscow, the "Holy City" of Russia was
occupied, Napoleon taking up his quarters in the famous palace of
the Kremlin, from which he hoped to dictate terms of peace to the
obstinate Czar. What were his feelings on the next morning when
word was brought him that Moscow was on fire, and flames were
seen leaping into the air in all directions.
The fire had been premeditated. From every quarter rose the
devouring flames. Even the Kremlin did not escape and Napoleon
was obliged to seek shelter outside the city, which continued to
burn for three days, when the wind sank and rain poured upon the
The dismayed conqueror waited in vain. He wrote letters to the
Czar, suggesting peace. His letters were left unanswered. He hung
on despairingly until the 18th of October, when he reluctantly
gave the order to retreat. Too long he had waited, for the
terrible Russian winter was about to descend.
That retreat was a frightful one. The army had been reduced to
103,000 men; the army followers had also greatly decreased in
numbers. But it was still a large host that set out upon its long
march over the frozen Russian plains.
The Russian policy now changed. The retreating army was attacked
at every suitable point. The food supply rapidly failed. On again
reaching Smolensk the army was only 42,000 strong, though the
camp followers are said to have still numbered 60,000.
On the 26th of November the ice-cold River Beresina was reached,
destined to be the most terrible point on the whole dreadful
march. Two bridges were thrown in all haste across the stream,
and most of the men under arms crossed, but 18,000 stragglers
fell into the hands of the enemy. How many were trodden to death
in the press or were crowded from the bridge into the icy river
cannot be told. It is said that when spring thawed the ice,
30,000 bodies were found and burned on the banks of the stream. A
mere fragment of the great army remained alive. Ney, who had been
the hero of the retreat, was the last man to cross that frightful
On the 13th of December some 16,000 haggard and staggering men,
almost too weak to hold the arms to which they still despairingly
clung, recrossed the Niemen, which the "Grand Army" had passed in
such magnificent strength and with such abounding resources less
than six months before. It was the greatest and most astounding
disaster in the military history of the world.
DRESDEN AND LEIPZIG
The lion was at bay, but there was fight left in him still. He
hurried back to France, gathered another army, refused all offers
of peace on the terms suggested by his enemies, and concentrated
an army at Dresden. Here on August 26, 1813, his last great
victory was won.
The final stand came at Leipzig, where, October 16-18, he waged a
three days' battle against all the powers of central and eastern
Europe. Then, his ammunition nearly exhausted, he was forced to
give the order to retreat.
The struggle was soon at an end. France was quickly invaded,
Paris was obliged to surrender, and on April 7, 1814, the emperor
signed an act of abdication and was exiled to the small island of
Elba, in the Mediterranean, with an army of 400 men, chosen from
his famous Old Guard. But the Powers of Europe, despite their
long experience of Napoleon, did not yet recognize the ability
and audacity of the man with whom they had to deal. While the
Congress of Vienna, convened to restore the old constitution of
Europe, was deliberating and disputing, word came that their
dethroned enemy was again on the soil of France and Louis XVIII,
his successor, was in full flight. He had landed on March 1,
1815, and was marching back to Paris, the people and the army
rallying to his support.
THE HUNDRED DAYS
Then came the famous Hundred Days, in which Napoleon showed much
of his old ability, rapidly organizing a new army, with which in
June he marched into Belgium, where the British under Wellington
and the Prussians under Blucher had gathered to meet him.
On the 16th he defeated Blucher at Ligny. On the 18th he met
Wellington at Waterloo, and after a desperate struggle went down
in utter defeat. All day long the French and British had fought
without victory for either, but the arrival of Blucher with his
Prussians turned the scale. The French army broke and fled in
disastrous rout, three-fourths of its force being left on the
field, dead, wounded, or prisoners. It was the great soldier's
last fight. He was forced to surrender the throne, and was again
exiled, this time to the island of St. Helena, in the south
Atlantic. No such mistake as that of Elba was safe to make again.
Here ended the days of Napoleon Bonaparte, the greatest soldier
the world had ever known. His final hour of glory came in 1842,
when his remains were brought in pomp to Paris, there to find a
final resting place in the Hotel des Invalides.
THE CONGRESS OF VIENNA
This Congress of the rulers and statesmen of Europe, which opened
in September, 1814, and continued its work after the fall of
Napoleon at Waterloo, occupied itself with map-making on a
liberal scale. The empire which the conqueror had built up at the
expense of the neighboring countries, was quickly dismembered and
France reduced to its former limits, while all the surrounding
Powers took their shares of the spoils, Belgium and Holland being
combined into a single kingdom.
As for the rights of the people, what had become of them? Had
they been swept away and the old wrongs of the people brought
back? Not quite. The frenzied enthusiasm for liberty and human
rights of the past twenty-five years could not go altogether for
nothing. The lingering relics of feudalism had vanished, not only
from France but from all Europe, and no monarch or congress could
bring them back again. In its place the principles of democracy
had been carried by the armies of France throughout Europe and
deeply planted in a hundred places, and their establishment as
actual conditions was the most important part of the political
development of the nineteenth century.
THE HOLY ALLIANCE
Map-making was not the whole work of the Congress of Vienna. An
association was made of the rulers of Russia, Austria and
Prussia, under the promising title of the "Holy Alliance." These
devout autocrats proposed to rule in accordance with the precepts
of the Bible, to govern their subjects like loving parents, and
to see that peace, justice and religion should flourish in their
Such was the theory, the real purpose was one of absolute
dominion, that of uniting their forces against democracy and
revolution wherever these should show themselves. It was not long
before there was work for them to do. The people began to move.
The attempt to re-establish absolute governments shook them out
of sluggish acceptance. Revolution lifted its head in spite of
the Holy Alliance, its first field being Spain. Revolt broke out
there in 1820 and was quickly followed by a similar revolt in
These revolutionary movements roused the members of the Alliance.
An Austrian army invaded Italy, a French one, under the influence
of the Alliance, was sent to Spain, and both the revolutions were
vigorously quelled. The only revolt that succeeded was one in
Greece against the Turkish power. There was no desire to sustain
the Turks, and a Russian army was finally sent to aid the Greeks,
whose freedom was attained in April, 1830.
Such were the chief events that followed the fall of Napoleon.
Reaction was the order of the day. But it was a reaction that was
to be violently shaken in the period now reached, the
revolutionary year of 1830.
<< 5: The World's Greatest War || 7: Pan-Slavism Versus Pan-Germanism >>