Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

while fresh corps continually unfolded themselves, issuing from the forest on the height behind us. The enemy, however, still preserved means to retreat, till the village of Planchenoit, which he had on his rear, and which was defended by the guard, was, after several bloody attacks, carried by storm. From that time the retreat became a rout, which soon spread through the whole French army, which, in its dreadful confusion, hurrying away every thing that attempted to stop it, soon assumed the appearance of the flight of an army of barbarians."

An intelligent peasant, who guided the march of Blucher, conducted it so that his army might debouche from the woods near the village of Frischermont, rather in the rear than on the flank of the French army, well judging that the appearance of the Prussians in that quarter would be decisive. This man had been dragged from his profession, and had served as a conscript; and, by a sort of retaliative justice, Buonaparte suffered from the degree of military skill which he had acquired during his compulsory service. The event cannot be better told than in the words of the Prince Marshal's dispatch. When the heads of the Prussian columns arrived on the place of action," it was half an hour past seven, and the issue of the battle was still uncertain. The whole of the fourth corps, and a part of the second under General Pvich, had successively come up. The French troops fought with desperate fury; however, some uncertainty was perceived in their movements, and it was observed that some pieces of cannon were retreating. At this moment the first columns of the corps of General Ziethen arrived on the points of attack, near the village of Smouhen, on the enemy's right flank, and instantly charged. This moment decided the defeat of the enemy. His right wing was broken in three places; he abandoned his positions. Our troops rushed forward at the pas de charge, and attacked him on all sides, while at the same time the whole English line advanced.

"Circumstances were extremely favourable to the attack formed by the Prussian army: The ground rose in an amphitheatre, so that our artillery could freely open its fire from the summit of a great many heights which rose gradually above each other, and in the intervals of which the troops descended into the plain, formed into brigades, and in the greatest order,

Pursuing their career of success, the Prussians soon encountered and crossed the advance of the English army. The allies greeted each other in that proud moment with the most friendly congratulations. The English gave their confederates three cheers, and the Prussians caused their military music to strike up the anthem of God save the King. By a singular coincidence, the Duke of Wellington and the Prince Marshal met and exchanged their congratulations near the cabaret called La Belle Alliance, a name which seemed to have been given in presage of the event. As the British and Prussians were now on the same line of march, and the cavalry of the former totally exhausted by the toils of the day, the duke readily relinquished to Blucher the charge of the pursuit, who swore he would not allow the fugitives a moment's respite, and failed not to keep his oath. "The field marshal," says his official dispatch, "assembled all the superior officers, and gave orders to send the last horse and the last man in pursuit of the enemy. The van of the army accelerated its march. The French being pursued without intermission, was absolutely disorganised. The causeway presented the appearance of an immense shipwreck: It

was covered with an innumerable quantity of cannon, caissons, carriages, baggage, arms, and wrecks of every kind. Those of the enemy who had attempted to repose for a time, and had not expected to be so quickly pursued, were driven from more than nine bivouacs. In some villages they attempted to maintain themselves, but as soon as they heard the beating of our drums or the sound of the trumpet, they either fled or threw them selves into the houses, where they were cut down or made prisoners. It was moonlight, which greatly favoured the pursuit, for the whole march was but a continued chase, either in the corn fields or the houses.

neral Duhesme, surrounded by some of the Black Brunswickers, whose fury for their duke's death was that night sated with revenge, begged for his life. "No," answered the hussar, to whom he petitioned, "the duke died yesterday," and instantly cut down the suppliant. When quarter was refused to officers of distinction, who might have possessed the means of recompensing the favour shewn to them, it may be readily believed that the common soldiers experienced no mercy. Indeed the very fact of speaking French was sufficient to induce the Prussians, in the first fury of the pursuit, to put to death those who used the obnoxious language; and proceeding upon this general rule, some innocent individuals lost their lives by mistake. In fact, the minds of the Prussian soldiers were on fire with their former wrongs and their late defeat, and it must be owned that they avenged both to the uttermost. At Genappe, Buonaparte's carriage, his cabinet, and his baggage, fell into the hands of the victors. Joined to one hundred and fifty pieces of cannon which the English had taken, an equal number was captured by the Prussians during the pursuit, with the whole materiel and baggage of the army.

It required all the glory, nay all the solid advantage of this immortal day, to repair the bloody price at which victory had been purchased. Near one hundred officers were slain, and more than five hundred wounded, many of whom afterwards died. Generals Cooke, Adams, almost every brigade officer of reputation, were wounded, and many of them severely. The very last fire of the enemy had been fatal to many officers of distinction: Lord Uxbridge then received the wound for which he was obliged to suffer amputation; Sir Thomas Bradford that of which he afterwards

"At Genappe the enemy had entrenched himself with cannon and overturned carriages. At our approach we suddenly heard in the town a great noise and a motion of carriages. At the entrance we were exposed to a brisk fire of musketry. We replied by some cannon-shot, followed by an hurrah, and an instant after the town was our's." It will be remembered that this town of Genappe, with its narrow street and the bridge over the Dyle, now encumbered with cannon and baggage, forms a defile of slow and difficult passage, even to troops conducted with every degree of order. To the unfortunate fugitives it proved an inextricable snare, and all who did not escape at the first alarm of the Prussians' entrance, were cut to pieces without mercy. In the small inn and its offices, about forty grenadiers were put to death. The spirit with which they had advanced to battle, and maintained the conflict while they were assailants, was so completely cowed by their present condition, that most of them attempted no resistance, but turning their faces to the wall as if afraid to look on the instrument of death, were slaughtered like sheep with the lance and sabre. Ge

died. Sir Francis D'Oley and Colonel Fitzgerald were both slain at the same period of the action. The killed and wounded amounted to at least fifteen thousand men, and if the Prussian loss is included, must have considerably exceeded twenty thousand. The utmost humanity and kindness were shewn to the wounded by the citizens of Brussels, who, during the whole of this dreadful battle, had been agonized by sinister reports of its being about to terminate in favour of the French. Some adherents Napoleon doubtless possess ed within the walls of Brussels, but the hearts of the Belgians were generally averse to a renewal of his dominion. The battle of Waterloo made a deep impression on their feelings in favour of the Prince of Orange, their future sovereign, who so gallantly supported the honour of the Netherlands, His bravery, and the wound which he received by a bal through his shoulder, while fighting at the head of the national troops, served to endear him to his new subjects.

It is impossible to calculate the loss of the French army. Since the generals of that nation, and particularly Buonaparte, have acted upon the system of making war (as one of themselves expressed it) without looking behind them, or calculating upon the possibility of a reverse, no instance had hitherto occurred in which defeat was so totally and irredeemably disastrous. It is supposed that they left at least twenty thousand men on the field of battle. The prisoners did not exceed seven thousand, among whom were Count Lobau and General Cambrone. The utter disorder of the flight, the absence of all courage, and even presence of mind on the part of the fugitives, the unusual circumstance that the chase was followed by a fresh and

peculiarly inveterate enemy, must ac count for vast numbers of those who were missing. But when it is considered, that of one hundred and fifty thousand men, a third part of the number was never collected after this campaign of four days, it must be allowed, that, after all deductions of those slain in the actions of the 15th, 16th, and 18th, the swords of the Prussians could not have bad edge, if their revenge had found appetite, to devour the remainder. The truth is, that many thousands disbanded after they reached France, threw away or sold their arms and uniforms, and never rejoined their standards. Strangers find in almost every situation, but especially as menials, men who have seen this bloody field, and who usually conclude their account of it with their resolution never again to embrace the trade of arms.

Wonderful as these consequences of a single engagement proved at the time, the subsequent results, which followed from the battle of Waterloo, were yet more astonishing. But before proceeding to detail them, it is proper to mention the sensation produced in Britain by the news of this important victory, which seemed the very key-stone as it were which completed her triumphal arch. Even those who had most deprecated the hazard of war, were delighted as well as surprised at its unexpected and glorious termination, and triumphed in the event which had falsified their own prognostications. It seemed to all as if the black storm, which had so suddenly obscured the political horizon, had condensed and discharged itself in one loud and horrific peal of thunder, and that the clouds had then dispersed on the instant, and the sky been restored to twice its usual serenity and brilliancy.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

CHAP. XV.

The Army-Grant to the Duke of Wellington.-Motion respecting Corporal Punishments in the Army.-Thanks to the Duke of Wellington and the Army for the Victory of Waterloo.-National Monument in Honour of that Victory-Monuments to Generals Ponsonby and Picton-Honours and Privileges conferred on the Troops.-Waterloo Subscription.-Vote of Thanks to the Duke of York.

THE first care of the British parliament, on the arrival of the tidings of the victory of Waterloo, was to testify the gratitude of the nation to the authors of that glorious atchievement. On the 23d of June, only five days after the battle, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the House of Commons, moved that a sum, not exceeding two hundred thousand pounds, should be granted, for the better enabling the trustees appointed in the former session to carry into effect the purposes for which they had been appointed, by purchasing a suitable residence and estate for the Duke of Wellington and his heirs. The Chancellor was interrupted by repeated cheers, while he dwelt upon those incidents of the battle which illustrated the character of the Duke of Wellington." It might appear surprising to the House, that as the forces of the Duke of Wellington and Prince Blucher were together superior to the French in number before the battle, that they should have been inferior when the attack was made. This arose from the great extent of the allied line, which enabled the French to make a push at a particular point in superior force, and from the very considerable distance which some corps of the allies had to march before they could reach the scene of action. He understood that the illustrious commander who guided

the course of that momentous strug gle, transcended, in his own personal exertions, even the great deeds of his former campaigns. He had himself received a letter from an officer of high rank, who was on the field of battle, and one well qualified to form a correct judgment, who stated, that the personal exertions of the Duke of Wellington were incredible, and threw all his preceding achievements completely into the shade. But these exertions had secured the success of the day, of which every one but the great commander himself had at one time despaired. At one period of the battle, he took possession of a high ridge, from which he declared he would never move; nor did he move but in triumph. At another, when his position was strongly attacked, he threw himself into the centre of a square of infantry, which was furiously charged by the enemy's cavalry, but which, fortunately for his country and the world, resisted the shock with dauntless intrepidity. I mention these things,' said the officer, 'because they are precisely those of which you will not find a word in his own dispatches. Every person around him was either killed or wounded.' There was another characteristic trait of that illustrious commander, which he could not abstain from communicating to the House, He had received a letter

399

from the Duke of Wellington, dated from Binch, a town in advance of the place where the battle was fought; and in a postscript he says I forgot to mention, in my public dispatch, that 5000 prisoners have been already brought in, and others are continually arriving. This motion was most cordially agreed to. Mr Whitbread, on this occasion, delivered his sentiments for nearly the last time (his lamented death happening very soon afterwards); and his speech is well worthy of commemoration, as indicative of that manly and candid spirit which has called forth the admiration even of his greatest political enemies. He said, that "he had not the slightest intention of opposing the grant, as it was the only means now left for the nation to testify its gratitude, beyond that vote of thanks which they had just passed. It remained for the Duke of Wellington to do that, which he alone could do, to add to his own great military fame; and he had indeed done more than was ever done, he believed, by any single commander. It was undoubtedly gratifying to the House, and it must be gratifying to the country, to hear those individual traits of heroism in that illustrious chief, and especially the one which the right honourable gentleman had related, connected as it was with his entire confidence in the bravery and fidelity of his troops. He should have been sorry if the votes of that day had passed without his presence, to express his most unfeigned approbation of them. With respect to the loss that had been sustained, and which had plunged so many illustrious families in affliction, he could not advert to that loss without dissenting from an expression used by the noble lord, and lamenting the grievous fact, that they had fallen in the prose cution of a war into which this country had been led, without just or necessary cause. He admitted, at the same

time, that the conduct of ministers, in the prosecution of this war, waving for the moment all consideration of its necessity or policy, was such as extorted his applause; and he had no hesitation in saying, that every department of government must have exerted itself to the utmost to give that complete efficiency to all the component parts of the army, which enabled the genius of the Duke of Wellington, aided by such means, to accomplish the wonderful victory he had achieved."

On the 23d of June the thanks of the House were unanimously voted to the Duke of Wellington, and to the officers and men of the British army; to the officers and men of the allied forces, serving under the Duke; and to Prince Blucher and the Prussian army. Sir Francis Burdett, after stating his dissent from the opinion that had been expressed by the mover of the resolutions, (Lord Castlereagh), added, that "whatever opinions might exist on the justice and expediency, or the injustice and inexpediency of the present war, there could be but one opinion as to the merit of the English and their allies in the late struggle-there could be but one opinion on the surpassing glory with which their efforts had on this occasion been crowned. What he would wish to propose was this, that the troops who had deserved so well of the country, should receive a more substantial reward than a vote of thanks, however great the honour might be of a vote of thanks from that House. He wished to lay in his claim for an amelioration of the present military system, and hoped, when the Mutiny Bill should be brought in next year, gentlemen would not think that the English soldier, who had deserved so much of his country, was the only soldier in the world for whom the degrading punishment of flogging was necessary." Sir Francis concluded, by expressing a

« AnteriorContinua »