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- Napoleon Bonaparte - 1/25 -



Napoleon, finding his proffers of peace rejected by England with contumely and scorn, and declined by Austria, now prepared, with his wonted energy, to repel the assaults of the allies. As he sat in his cabinet at the Tuileries, the thunders of their unrelenting onset came rolling in upon his ear from all the frontiers of France. The hostile fleets of England swept the channel, utterly annihilating the commerce of the Republic, landing regiments of armed emigrants upon her coast, furnishing money and munitions of war to rouse the partisans of the Bourbons to civil conflict, and throwing balls and shells into every unprotected town. On the northern frontier, Marshal Kray, came thundering down, through the black Forest, to the banks of the Rhine, with a mighty host of 150,000 men, like locust legions, to pour into all the northern provinces of France. Artillery of the heaviest calibre and a magnificent array of cavalry accompanied this apparently invincible army. In Italy, Melas, another Austrian marshal, with 140,000 men, aided by the whole force of the British navy, was rushing upon the eastern and southern borders of the Republic. The French troops, disheartened by defeat, had fled before their foes over the Alps, or were eating their horses and their boots in the cities where they were besieged. From almost every promontory on the coast of the Republic, washed by the Channel, or the Mediterranean, the eye could discern English frigates, black and threatening, holding all France in a state of blockade.

One always finds a certain pleasure in doing that which he can do well. Napoleon was fully conscious of his military genius. He had, in behalf of bleeding humanity, implored peace in vain. He now, with alacrity and with joy, roused himself to inflict blows that should be felt upon his multitudinous enemies. With such tremendous energy did he do this, that he received from his antagonists the most complimentary sobriquet of the one hundred thousand men . Wherever Napoleon made his appearance in the field, his presence alone was considered equivalent to that force.

The following proclamation rang like a trumpet charge over the hills and valleys of France. "Frenchmen! You have been anxious for peace. Your government has desired it with still greater ardor. Its first efforts, its most constant wishes, have been for its attainment. The English ministry has exposed the secret of its iniquitous policy. It wishes to dismember France, to destroy its commerce, and either to erase it from the map of Europe, or to degrade it to a secondary power. England is willing to embroil all the nations of the Continent in hostility with each other, that she may enrich herself with their spoils, and gain possession of the trade of the world. For the attainment of this object she scatters her gold, becomes prodigal of her promises, and multiplies her intrigues."

At this call all the martial spirit of France rushed to arms. Napoleon, supremely devoted to the welfare of the State, seemed to forget even his own glory in the intensity of his desire to make France victorious over her foes. With the most magnanimous superiority to all feelings of jealousy, he raised an army of 150,000 men, the very elite of the troops of France, the veterans of a hundred battles, and placed them in the hands of Moreau, the only man in France who could be called his rival. Napoleon also presented to Moreau the plan of a campaign in accordance with his own energy, boldness, and genius. Its accomplishment would have added surpassing brilliance to the reputation of Moreau. But the cautious general was afraid to adopt it, and presented another, perhaps as safe, but one which would produce no dazzling impression upon the imaginations of men. "Your plan," said one, a friend of Moreau, to the First Consul, "is grander, more decisive, even more sure. But it is not adapted to the slow and cautious genius of the man who is to execute it. You have your method of making war, which is superior to all others. Moreau has his own, inferior certainly, but still excellent. Leave him to himself. If you impose your ideas upon him, you will wound his self-love, and disconcert him."

Napoleon, profoundly versed in the knowledge of the human heart, promptly replied. "You are right, Moreau is not capable of grasping the plan which I have conceived. Let him follow his own course. The plan which he does not understand and dare not execute, I myself will carry out, on another part of the theatre of war. What he fears to attempt on the Rhine, I will accomplish on the Alps. The day may come when he will regret the glory which he yields to me." These were proud and prophetic words. Moreau, was moderately victorious upon the Rhine, driving back the invaders. The sun of Napoleon soon rose, over the field of Marengo, in a blaze of effulgence, which paled Moreau's twinkling star into utter obscurity. But we know not where, upon the page of history, to find an act of more lofty generosity than this surrender of the noblest army of the Republic to one, who considered himself, and who was deemed by others, a rival--and thus to throw open to him the theatre of war where apparently the richest laurels were to be won. And he know where to look for a deed more proudly expressive of self-confidence. "I will give Moreau," said he by this act, "one hundred and fifty thousand of the most brave and disciplined soldiers of France, the victors of a hundred battles. I myself will take sixty thousand men, new recruits and the fragments of regiments which remain, and with them I will march to encounter an equally powerful enemy on a more difficult field of warfare."

Marshal Melas had spread his vast host of one hundred and forty thousand Austrians through all the strongholds of Italy, and was pressing, with tremendous energy and self-confidence upon the frontiers of France. Napoleon, instead of marching with his inexperienced troops, two-thirds of whom had never seen a shot fired in earnest, to meet the heads of the triumphant columns of Melas, resolved to climb the rugged and apparently inaccessible fastnesses of the Alps, and, descending from the clouds over path-less precipices, to fall with the sweep of the avalanche, upon their rear. It was necessary to assemble this army at some favorable point;--to gather in vast magazines its munitions of war. It was necessary that this should be done in secret, lest the Austrians, climbing to the summits of the Alps, and defending the gorges through which the troops of Napoleon would be compelled to wind their difficult and tortuous way, might render the passage utterly impossible. English and Austrian spies were prompt to communicate to the hostile powers every movement of the First Consul. Napoleon fixed upon Dijon and its vicinity as the rendezvous of his troops. He, however, adroitly and completely deceived his foes by ostentatiously announcing the very plan he intended to carry into operation.

Of course, the allies thought that this was a foolish attempt to draw their attention from the real point of attack. The more they ridiculed the imaginary army at Dijon, the more loudly did Napoleon reiterate his commands for battalions and magazines to be collected there. The spies who visited Dijon, reported that but a few regiments were assembled in that place, and that the announcement was clearly a very weak pretense to deceive. The print shops of London and Vienna were filled with caricatures of the army of the First Consul of Dijon. The English especially made themselves very merry with Napolcon's grand army to scale the Alps. It was believed that the energies the Republic were utterly exhausted in raising the force which was given to Moreau. One of the caricatures represented the army as consisting of a boy, dressed in his father's clothes, shouldering a musket, which he could with difficulty lift, and eating a piece of gingerbread, and an old man with one arm and a wooden leg. The artillery consisted of a rusty blunderbuss. This derision was just what Napoleon desired. Though dwelling in the shadow of that mysterious melancholy, which ever enveloped his spirit, he must have enjoyed in the deep recesses of his soul, the majestic movements of his plans.

On the eastern frontiers of France there surge up, from luxuriant meadows and vine-clad fields and hill sides, the majestic ranges of the Alps, piercing the clouds and soaring with glittering pinnacles, into the region of perpetual ice and snow. Vast spurs of the mountains extend on each side, opening gloomy gorges and frightful detiles, through which foaming torrents rush impetuously, walled in by almost precipitous cliffs, whose summits, crowned with melancholy firs, are inaccessible to the foot of man. The principal pass over this enormous ridge was that of the Great St. Bernard. The traveler, accompanied by a guide, and mounted on a mule, slowly and painfully ascended a steep and rugged path, now crossing a narrow bridge, spanning a fathomless abyss, again creeping along the edge of a precipice, where the eagle soared and screamed over the fir tops in the abyss below, and where a perpendicular wall rose to giddy heights in the clouds above. The path at times was so narrow, that it seemed that the mountain goat could with difficulty find a foothold for its slender hoof. A false step, or a slip upon the icy rocks would precipitate the traveler, a mangled corpse, a thousand feet upon the fragments of granite in the gulf beneath. As higher and higher he climbed these wild and rugged and cloud-enveloped paths, borne by the unerring instinct of the faithful mule, his steps were often arrested by the roar of the avalanche and he gazed appalled upon its resistless rush, as rocks, and trees, and earth, and snow, and ice, swept by him with awful and resistless desolation, far down into the dimly discerned torrents which rushed beneath his feet. At God's bidding the avalanche fell. No precaution could save the traveler who was in its path. He was instantly borne to destruction, and buried where no voice but the archangel's trump could ever reach his ear. Terrific storms of wind and snow often swept through those bleak altitudes, blinding and smothering the traveler. Hundreds of bodies, like pillars of ice, embalmed in snow, are now sepulchred in those drifts, there to sleep till the fires of the last conflagration shall have consumed their winding sheet. Having toiled two days through such scenes of desolation and peril, the adventurous traveler stands upon the summit of the pass, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, two thousand feet higher than the crest of Mount Washington, our own mountain monarch. This summit, over which the path winds, consists of a small level plain, surrounded by mountains of snow of still higher elevation.

The scene here presented is inexpressibly gloomy and appailing. Nature in these wild regions assumes her most severe and sombre aspect. As one emerges from the precipitous and craggy ascent, upon this Valley of Desolation, as it is emphatically called, the Convent of St. Bernard presents itself to the view. This cheerless abode, the highest spot of inhabited ground in Europe, has been tenanted, for more than a thousand years, by a succession of joyless and self-denying monks, who, in that frigid retreat of granite and ice, endeavor to serve their Maker, by rescuing bewildered travelers from the destruction with which they are ever threatened to be overwhelmed by the storms, which battle against them. In the middle of this ice-bound valley, lies a lake, clear, dark, and cold, whose depths, even in mid-summer, reflect the eternal glaciers which soar sublimely around. The descent to the plains of Italy is even more precipitous and dangerous than the ascent from the green pastures of France. No vegetation adorns these dismal and storm-swept cliffs

Napoleon Bonaparte - 1/25

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