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was directed by Napoleon to take the Moscow line, and push on with vigour. Part of Davoust's corps was ordered to support him. But these changes caused hesitation and delay, and it was not till three o'clock in the afternoon that Ney fell upon Touchkoff, although the position of the latter was not above five miles from Smolensko. The Russians were posted behind a small stream flowing in a ravine. After a sharp contest, they were driven back from this position over the plateau of Valoutina, across another ravine, and finally took post upon a hill above the marshy stream of the Stragan, where they prepared to make their final stand; for immediately behind this the cross-road along which Barclay came fell in. A step backward, and all was lost. Strongly and fiercely did the Russians fight-swiftly and eagerly did the French come on. Their surging numbers threatened to overwhelm the Russians, when the head of Barclay's advanced guard, with eight guns, debouching from the lane, restored the contest. But Gudin's division of Davoust's corps now joined Ney, and the battle raged more fiercely than ever. The decisive moment had come.
"It was about sunset," says Wilson, "when the enemy on the main road upon the left bank, flattering themselves that their right was gaining ground, made a desperate effort to force the hill on which several Russian guns were placed, and which commanded the whole position, and also in reverse the outlet of the cross-road, beyond which a boggy rivulet ran, intersecting the route. Over this only one bridge with loose planks afforded passage for the artillery and infantry, until night, when two others were thrown across by Duke Alexander of Wirtemberg. For an instant the Russian guns and troops supporting, overwhelmed with shells, shot, and musketry, flew back to seek shelter behind the crest of the hill; but General Barclay, who had been superintending the action with his rear-guard, admonished by the cannonade at Loubino and Waloutina Gora of the new danger to his advanced guard, opportunely arrived at this moment, and,
seeing the extent of the danger to his column, galloped forward sword in hand at the head of his staff (including my. self, with two Russian officers attached to me as aides-de-camp) and orderlies, rallying the fugitives, and crying out post, or perish!' by his energy and ex'Victory or death! We must preserve this ample reanimating all, recovered possession of the height, and thus, under God's favour, the army was preserved. The loss on each side was not much more than six thousand men. The Russians had suffered most by the attack on their guard. The French had in the other attacks been the most exposed."-(WILSON, 108, 109.)*
Having now happily reunited their forces, the Russians continued their retreat during the night. Barclay, yielding to the almost mutiny of his troops, now made up his mind to give battle. To such a pitch had this feeling come amongst both officers and men, that Platoff, the Cossack leader, came to the Russian commander on the evacuation of Smolensko and said, "You see I wear but a cloak: I will never put on again a Russian uniform, since it has become a disgrace!" It was first intended to have fought at Dorogobouge, but the position chosen there being found defective, they fell back in search of one. Sir Robert Wilson meanwhile continued his journey to St Petersburg, but now the bearer of one of the most extraordinary communications ever sent by soldiers to a sovereign. We give the account of the transaction in his own words :
"When Sir Robert Wilson reached the Russian army, he found the generals in open dissension with the commander-inchief, General Barclay, for having already suffered the enemy to overrun so many provinces, and for not making any serious disposition to defend the line of the Dnieper. Some wished that General Benningsen should have the command, others Prince Bagrathion; and General Benningsen, fearing that he might be forced into the command by a military election when it was known that Smolensko was to be evacuated, left the army, and withdrew several marches to the rear, that the Emperor's orders for the
Had Junot, who had forded the Dnieper above the Russian position, attacked their left rear with his corps, they must have been destroyed. But he refused to move, declaring that "his orders were limited to the passage of the river, and that a marsh in his front would prevent the deployment of his force."-(WILSON, 94.)
appointment of a new chief might arrive during his absence. Before his (Wilson's) departure for St Petersburg, however, it
had been resolved to send to the Emperor not only the request of the army 'for a new chief,' but a declaration, in the name of the army, that if an order came from St Petersburg to suspend hos tilities and treat the invaders as friends' (which was apprehended to be the true motive of the retrograde movements, in deference to the policy of Count Romanzow), such an order would be regarded as one which did not express his Imperial Majesty's real sentiments and wishes, but had been extracted from his Majesty under false representations or external control, and that the army would continue to maintain his pledge, and pursue the contest till the invader was driven beyond the frontier. Since the execution of such a commission might expose a Russian officer to future punishment, and the conveyance of such a communication by a subject to the sovereign was calculated to pain and give offence, when no offence was proposed, it was communicated by a body of generals to Sir Robert Wilson, that under the circumstances of his known attachment to the Emperor, and his Imperial Majesty's equally well known feelings towards him, no person was considered so properly qualified to put the Emperor in possession of the sentiments of the army; that his motives in accept ing the mission could not be suspected; and that the channel was one which would best avoid trespass on personal respect, and prevent irritation from personal feelings being humiliated.'" (WILSON, 111, 112.)
Sir Robert undertook the delicate mission, and reached St Petersburg on the 24th August. The Emperor was then at Abo, whither he had gone to meet Bernadotte. There is no monarch who has come much worse out of the ordeal of history than this Swedish one. Selfishness seems to have been the only rule which guided his conduct. Of any higher motive he was entirely guileless. Thiers has revealed that he offered to unite his whole forces to those of France for the overthrow of Russia, provided the possession of Norway was secured to him. Napoleon-to his honour be it said-refused to spoliate his old ally Denmark, and Bernadotte then proceeded to offer his mercenary alliance to England and Russia upon the same terms. They accepted it, for it was of immense importance to
"Those negotiations were concluded which rendered disposable the Russian army of Finland, and secured the cooperation of a Swedish force, assuring Norway to Sweden, under the guarantee of England, with one million sterling as subsidy, which, moreover, held out to the King the prospect of ascending the throne of France,-Alexander having declared in his presence that he should consider it vacant in case of Napoleon's overthrow,' and having replied to the King's question, To whom then would it be given?' with a pointed emphasis and accompanying inclination of the head, 'Au plus digne !'"-(WILSON, 113.)
This is a most curious and valuable revelation. The conduct of Bernadotte in the subsequent course of the contest was so extraordinary-the resolution with which he held back his forces from any active participation in it was so great-the pressure which had to be applied to him by Sir Charles Stewart in 1813 to bring him up on the third day to Leipsic, and by Lord Castlereagh in 1814 to tear from his reluctant grasp the Russian and Prussian corps which rendered Blucher victorious at Laon, was so extreme, that every attentive reader of these transactions was driven to one of two alternatives-either that Bernadotte was a traitor, or that he was aiming at the throne of France. This most curious revelation of Sir Robert Wilson's, however, renders the motives of his conduct clear. The Russian Emperor had indirectly held out to him the bait of the French throne to induce him to enter into the alliance, and it was therefore but natural that he should endeavour to hang back as much as possible in the actual contest, and avoid to the utmost of his power wounding the susceptible vanity of his future subjects, and being associated in their minds with the overthrow of their dominion and the humiliation of their country.
On the 3d September the Emperor returned to St Petersburg, and during a private conversation after dinner, Sir Robert communicated to him the views of his army. His account of Alexander's conduct on
the occasion is so characteristic, and throws so much light both upon his character and the state of Russia at the time, that we give it in full :
"During this exposition, the Emperor's colour occasionally visited and left his cheek. When Sir Robert Wilson had terminated his appeal, there was a minute or two of pause, and his Majesty drew towards the window, as if desirous of recovering an unembarrassed air before he replied. After a few struggles, however, he came up to Sir Robert Wilson, took him by the hand, and kissed him on the forehead and cheek, according to the Russian custom. You are the only person,' then said his Majesty, from whom I could or would have heard such a communication. In the former war you proved your attachment to me by your services, and you entitled yourself to my most intimate confidence; but you must be aware that you have placed me in a very distressing position. Moi! souverain de la Russie !to hear such things from any one! But the army is mistaken in Romanzow: he really has not advised submission to the Emperor Napoleon; and I have a great respect for him, since he is almost the only one who never asked me in his life for anything on his own account; whereas every one else in my service has always been seeking honours, wealth, or some private object for himself and connections. I am unwilling to sacrifice him without cause: but come again tomorrow. I must collect my thoughts before I despatch you with an answer. I know the generals and officers about them well; they mean, I am satisfied, to do their duty, and I have no fears of their having any unavowed designs against my authority. But I am to be pitied; for I have few about me who have any sound education or fixed principles: my grandmother's court vitiated the whole education of the empire, confining it to the acquisition of the French language, French frivolities and vices, particularly gaming. I have little, therefore, on which I can firmly rely only impulses: I must not give way to them, if possible; but I will think on all you have said.' His Majesty then embraced Sir Robert Wilson again, and appointed the next day for his further attendance. Sir Robert Wilson obeyed his Majesty's commands, who renewed the subject almost immediately by saying, Well! Monsieur l'Ambassadeur des rebelles, I have reflected seriously during the whole night upon the conversation of yesterday, and I have
not done you injustice. You shall carry back to the army pledges of my determination to continue the war against Napoleon whilst a Frenchman is in arms on this side the frontier. I will not desert my engagements, come what may. I will abide the worst. I am interior, and undergo every sacrifice; ready to remove my family into the but I must not give way on the point of choosing my own ministers: that concession might induce other demands still more inconvenient and indecorous for me to grant. Count Romanzow shall not be the means of any disunion or difference; everything will be done that can remove uneasiness on that head, but done so that I shall not appear to give way to menace, or have to reproach myself for injustice. This is a case where much depends on the manner of doing it. Give me a little time-all will be satisfactorily arranged." "—(WILSON, 116, 117.)
Sir Robert was shortly after sent back to the army, instructed by the Emperor to announce in his name to the generals that he
"Declared upon his honour, and directed him to repeat in the most formal manner, the declaration, that his Majesty would not enter into or permit any negotiation with Napoleon as long as an armed Frenchman remained in the territories of Russia. He would sooner let his beard grow to his waist, and eat potatoes in Siberia. At the same time, he specially authorised Sir Robert Wilson (who was to reside with the Russian Army as British Commissioner), to intervene with all the power and influence he could exert, to protect the interests of the Imperial Crown, in conformity with that pledge, whenever he saw any disposition or design to contravene or prejudice them."-(WILSON, 119.)
It was the 15th September when Sir Robert left St Petersburg for the headquarters of the Russian army. He did not rejoin it, in consequence, until after the evacuation of Moscow. Great events had happened in the mean time. Barclay had been superseded in the command by Marshal Kutusoff. His character is thus sketched by our author :
"A bon vivant-polished, courteous, shrewd as a Greek, naturally intelligent as an Asiatic, and well instructed as a European-he was more disposed to trust to diplomacy for his success than
to martial prowess, for which, by his age and the state of his constitution, he was no longer qualified. When he joined the army he was seventy-four years old; and, though hale, so very corpulent that he was obliged to move about, even when in the field, in a little four-wheeled carriage with a head, called a droska. Such was the successor whom, as Alexander told the English general, Sir Robert Wilson, the nobility of Russia had selected to vindicate the arms of Russia, and defend their remaining possessions.""-(WILSON, 131.)
Personally, Kutusoff was inclined to follow out the plan conceived by Barclay. But the circumstances of his appointment, and the feeling of the army, rendered any further retreat without a general battle impossible. Having chosen, therefore, a battle-ground at Borodino, seventyfive miles in front of Moscow, he hastened to occupy it, and strengthen it with earthworks.
It was not without great hesitation that Napoleon took the resolution of advancing from Smolensko direct upon Moscow. His most prudent course would have been to have taken up his position there behind the Dnieper and the Dwina, and employed himself during the winter in strengthening his position, securing his base, and reorganising Poland and Lithuania in his rear, ready to advance with the early spring on the Russian capital. But his active mind could not brook the prospect of the long inaction; he was deeply impressed with the idea, that if he could defeat the Russians in a general action, and occupy their capital, Alexander would immediately sue for peace; and he knew enough of the state of their army to be sure that they would not fall back much farther without fighting. Moreover, he felt strongly that the courses of the Dnieper and the Dwina ceased to be defensive lines the moment the hard frost set in. Influenced by these various considerations, and trusting much to his star, he took his final resolution at Dorogobouge to march straight on Moscow. At Gjatsk, on the 2d September, he halted for a day to refresh his men
for the great contest which was impending, and had returns sent in of the strength of each corps. From these it appeared that he had 103,000 infantry and 30,000 cavalry-in all, 133,000 combatants present with the eagles: 420,000 had crossed the Niemen, about 120,000 had been detached to the flanks or left in garrison; his loss up to this period alone, therefore, must have amounted to the enormous number of upwards of 160,000 men.
It was six o'clock on the morning of the 7th September when the strife of giants began at Borodino: 115,000 Russians, with 640 pieces of artillery, struggled there from the rising till the setting of the sun against 127,000 French and 580 guns.* No such terrible contest had yet occurred even in that age of ceaseless strife. Three redoubts covered the Russian left, one large fieldwork protected their centre. Around these the storm of battle ebbed and flowed-now surging over their blood-stained ramparts, now rolling down the heights beyond. Now heavy columns of French infantry forced their headlong way with the bayonet, anon with horrid yells the sturdy Russian foot, closing with a desperate courage, would win back their ground; then the glittering cuirasses of charging horsemen would sweep through the struggling crowd, or loose hordes of long-lanced Cossacks go swarming along the rear. When mutual exhaustion and the failing light brought this terrible battle to a close, the covering-works both on the Russian centre and left were in the hands of the assailants; but behind them, on the heights in rear of the ravines of Gorizkoe and Semenowski, the Muscovite masses lay, exhausted, but unbroken. About 80,000 killed and wounded men were stretched upon that field of blood, divided in about equal proportions between the two sides. But the French had two decided advantages: the guard, 20,000 strong, had never taken their muskets from their shoulders, while the last Russian reserves had been engaged; and on their right they had gained ground, which enabled
* For these numbers compare Thiers, xiv. 318, and Chambray, ii. 33, with Boutourlin, i. 320, and Wilson, 136.
them to menace the Russian line of retreat.
These circumstances decided Kutusoff to retire, and accordingly, before dawn on the following morning, he evacuated the position, and fell back slowly, and in perfect order, to Mojaisk on the Moscow road. Benningsen, who had a keen eye for strategy, urged Kutusoff here,
"Not to fall back on Moscow, but to move with the main body of his forces in the direction of Kalouga, on which line he would be most advantageously posted in case the enemy persisted in his movement on Moscow to baffle his operation, or render it finally disastrous."-(WILSON, 161.)
But the commander-in-chief fell back leisurely along the main road, and, with some sharp rear-guard combats, arrived in front of Moscow, where he took up a defensive position on the 13th. Many of the generals, and the mass of the army, were eager for another combat beneath the walls of the capital; but at a council of war, held to decide the question, the opinion of Kutusoff prevailed,-that there was no good position covering the capital,
"That the Russian army, in another battle before Moscow, might be so shattered as to be rendered incapable of resuming offensive operations in conjunction with the other armies on march, or manoeuvring to act on the rear and flank communications of the enemy, the success of which operations, as well as their own safety, depended on the co-operating support of the Russian main army; that the enemy would be obliged to weaken his disposable force by the occupation of Moscow, whereas the Russian army would be daily gaining strength; and finally, that it must always be kept in mind that the contest was for the Russian empire, and not for the preservation of any particular city, or the capital itself."-(WILSON, 164.)
There can be no doubt that these reasons were perfectly sound, and fully justified by the event.
"On the morning of the 14th," says Wilson," before day-dawn, the troops commenced filing through the city, and were soon accompanied by all the inhabitants and populace who could find any means of conveyance. A hundred and eighty thousand souls, out of two hun
dred thousand, with sixty-five thousand
The nation accompanied their army, and the empty shell of the capital was alone left to the invaders. We now come to the very curious and much-vexed question, Who burnt Moscow? Wilson agrees with Thiers and Alison in attributing the deed to the governor Rostopchin. The reasons he assigns seem quite decisive upon the subject. When Kutusoff fell back towards the capital, Rostopchin publickly avowed his
"Resolve, if the city were not to be defended by the Russian army, to convoke all the authorities and inhabitants for the purpose of arranging a general and municipally regulated conflagration-a sacrifice which he was confident would unhesitatingly be made by their patriotism, excited by their horror of the invader. As a further security against the counteraction of his design, he insisted on and obtained a solemn promise from Kutusoff, that if any change should occur in his resolution to defend the city, he would give him three full days' notice." (WILSON, 162.)
Kutusoff could or did not fulfil his promise; the meeting could not be held, and thus
"Rostopchin, the governor, was placed in a false position. He could neither deny nor adopt the act; but his previous announcement of that intention, his demand of Kutusoff for three days' notice,' the removal or destruction of all the fire-engines and apparatus, the release of several hundred malefactors, and the organisation of their bands under directing superiors, impress conviction that Rostopchin was the author and abettor of the transaction. He never forgave Kutusoff for the infraction of the promise-a promise which he publicly declared Kutusoff swore by the white hairs of his head' to keep, and the breach of which compelled him to make clandestine preparations, and take measures as if he were instigating an offence against his countrymen and country; whereas, if it had been kept, an occasion would have been presented to him to assume the avowed responsible lead in an act of public virtue enhancing national fame.” (WILSON, 173.)
Of the stern character of the man,