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Transcriber's Note: A number of obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document.
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NARRATIVE OF THE MOST REMARKABLE EVENTS WHICH OCCURRED IN AND NEAR LEIPZIG,
IMMEDIATELY BEFORE, DURING, AND SUBSEQUENT TO, THE SANGUINARY SERIES OF ENGAGEMENTS BETWEEN
THE ALLIED ARMIES OF THE FRENCH, FROM THE 14th TO THE 19th OCTOBER, 1813
Illustrated with MILITARY MAPS, EXHIBITING THE MOVEMENTS OF THE RESPECTIVE ARMIES.
COMPILED AND TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY FREDERIC SHOBERL.
"Suave etiam belli certamina magna tueri Per campos instructa, tua sine parte pericli." LUCRET. Lib. ii. 5.
LONDON: PRINTED FOR R. ACKERMANN, 101, STRAND, By W. CLOWES, Northumberland court, Strand.
[Price Five Shillings.]
After a contest of twenty years' duration, Britain, thanks to her insular position, her native energies, and the wisdom of her counsels, knows scarcely any thing of the calamities of war but from report, and from the comparatively easy pecuniary sacrifices required for its prosecution. No invader's foot has polluted her shores, no hostile hand has desolated her towns and villages, neither have fire and sword transformed her smiling plains into dreary deserts. Enjoying a happy exemption from these misfortunes, she hears the storm, which is destined to fall with destructive violence upon others, pass harmlessly over her head. Meanwhile the progress of her commerce and manufactures, and her improvement in the arts, sciences, and letters, though liable, from extraordinary circumstances, to temporary obstructions, are sure and steady; the channels of her wealth are beyond the reach of foreign malignity; and, after an unparalleled struggle, her vigour and her resources seem but to increase with the urgency of the occasions that call them forth.
Far different is the lot of other nations and of other countries. There is scarcely a region of Continental Europe but has in its turn drunk deep within these few years of the cup of horrors. Germany, the theatre of unnumbered contests—the mountains of Switzerland, which for ages had reverberated only the notes of rustic harmony—the fertile vales of the Peninsula—the fields of Austria—the sands of Prussia—the vast forests of Poland, and the boundless plains of the Russian empire—have successively rung with the din of battle, and been drenched with native blood. To the inhabitants of several of these countries, impoverished by the events of war, the boon of British benevolence has been nobly extended; but the facts related in the following sheets will bear me out in the assertion, that none of these cases appealed so forcibly to the attention of the humane as that of Leipzig, and its immediate vicinity. Their innocent inhabitants have in one short year been reduced, by the infatuation of their sovereign, and by that greatest of all curses, the friendship of France, from a state of comfort to absolute beggary; and thousands of them, stripped of their all, are at this moment houseless and unprotected wanderers, exposed to the horrors of famine, cold, and disease.
That Leipzig, undoubtedly the first commercial city of Germany, and the great Exchange of the Continent, must, in common with every other town which derives its support from trade and commerce, have severely felt the effects of what Napoleon chose to nickname the Continental System, is too evident to need demonstration. The sentiments of its inhabitants towards the author of that system could not of course be very favourable; neither were they backward in shewing the spirit by which they were animated, as the following facts will serve to evince:—When the French, on their return from their disastrous Russian expedition, had occupied Leipzig, and were beginning, as usual, to levy requisitions of every kind, an express was sent to the Russian colonel Orloff, who had pushed forward with his Cossacks to the distance of about 20 miles, entreating him to release the place from its troublesome guests. He complied with the invitation; and every Frenchman who had not been able to escape, and fancied himself secure in the houses, was driven from his hiding-place, and delivered up to the Cossacks, who were received with unbounded demonstrations of joy.
About this time a Prussian corps began to be formed in Silesia, under the denomination of the Corps of Revenge. It was composed of volunteers, who bound themselves by an oath not to lay down their arms till Germany had recovered her independence. On the occupation of Leipzig by the allies, this corps received a great accession of strength from that place, where it joined by the greater number of the students at the university, and by the most respectable young men of the city, and other parts of Saxony. The people of Leipzig moreover availed themselves of every opportunity to make subscriptions for the allied troops, and large sums were raised on these occasions. Their mortification was sufficiently obvious when the French, after the battle of Luetzen, again entered the city. Those who had so lately welcomed the Russians and Prussians with the loudest acclamations now turned their backs on their pretended friends; nay, such was the general aversion, that many strove to get out of the way, that they might not see them.
This antipathy was well known to Bonaparte by means of his spies, who were concealed in the town, and he took care to resent it. When, among others, the deputies of the city of Leipzig, M. Frege, aulic counsellor, M. Dufour, and Dr. Gross, waited upon him after the battle of Luetzen, he expressed himself in the following terms respecting the corps of revenge: Je sais bien que c'est chez vous qu'on a forme ce corps de vengeance, mais qui enfin n'est qu'une policonnerie qui n'a ete bon a rien. It was on this occasion also that the deputies received from the imperial ruffian one of those insults which are so common with him, and which might indeed be naturally expected from such an upstart; for, when they assured him of the submission of the city, he dismissed them with these remarkable words: Allez vous en! than which nothing more contemptuous could be addressed to the meanest beggar.
It was merely to shew his displeasure at the Anti-Gallican sentiments of the city, that Napoleon, after his entrance into Dresden, declared Leipzig in a state of siege; in consequence of which the inhabitants were obliged to furnish gratuitously all the requisitions that he thought fit to demand. In this way the town, in a very short time, was plundered of immense sums, exclusively of the expense of the hospitals, the maintenance of which alone consumed upwards of 30,000 dollars per week. During this state of things the French, from the highest to the lowest, seemed to think themselves justified in wreaking upon the inhabitants the displeasure of their emperor; each therefore, after the example of his master, was a petty tyrant, whose licentiousness knew no bounds.
By such means, and by the immense assemblage of troops which began to be formed about the city at the conclusion of September 1813, its resources were completely exhausted, when the series of sanguinary engagements between the 14th and the 19th of the following month reduced it to the very verge of destruction. In addition to the pathetic details of the extreme hardships endured by the devoted inhabitants of the field of battle, which extended to the distance of ten English miles round Leipzig, contained in the following sheets, I shall beg leave to introduce the following extract of a letter, written on the 22d November, by a person of great commercial eminence in that city, who, after giving a brief account of those memorable days of October, thus proceeds:—
"By this five days' conflict our city was transformed into one vast hospital, 56 edifices being devoted to that purpose alone. The number of sick and wounded amounted to 36,000. Of these a large proportion died, but their places were soon supplied by the many wounded who had been left in the adjacent villages. Crowded to excess, what could be the consequence but contagious diseases? especially as there was such a scarcity of the necessaries of life—and unfortunately a most destructive nervous fever is at this moment making great ravages among us, so that from 150 to 180 deaths commonly occur in one week, in a city whose ordinary proportion was between 30 and 40. In the military hospitals there die at least 300 in a day, and frequently from 5 to 600. By this extraordinary mortality the numbers there have been reduced to from 14 to 10,000. Consider too the state of the circumjacent villages, to the distance of 10 miles round, all completely stripped; in scarcely any of them is there left a single horse, cow, sheep, hog, fowl, or corn of any kind, either hay or implements of agriculture. All the dwelling-houses have been burned or demolished, and all the wood-work about them carried off for fuel by the troops in bivouac. The roofs have shared the same fate; the shells of the houses were converted into forts and loop-holes made in the walls, as every village individually was defended and stormed. Not a door or window is any where to be seen, as those might be removed with the greatest ease, and, together with the roofs, were all consumed. Winter is now at hand, and its rigours begin already to be felt. These poor creatures are thus prevented, not only by the season, from rebuilding their habitations, but also by the absolute want of means; they have no prospect before them but to die of hunger, for all Saxony, together with the adjacent countries, has suffered far too severely to be able to afford any relief to their miseries.
"Our commercial house, God be thanked I has not been plundered; but every thing in my private house, situated in the suburb of Grimma, was carried off or destroyed, as you may easily conceive, when I inform you that a body of French troops broke open the door on the 19th, and defended themselves in the house against the Prussians. Luckily I had a few days before removed my most valuable effects to a place of safety. I had in the house one killed and two wounded; but, a few doors off, not fewer than 60 were left dead in one single house.—Almost all the houses in the suburbs have been more or less damaged by the shower of balls on the 19th."
That these pictures of the miseries occasioned by the sanguinary conflict which sealed the emancipation of the Continent from Gallic despotism are not overcharged is proved by the concurrent testimony of all the other accounts which have arrived from that quarter. Among the rest a letter received by the publisher, from the venerable count Schoenfeld, a Saxon nobleman of high character, rank, and affluence, many years ambassador both at the court of Versailles, before the revolution, and till within a few years at Vienna, is so interesting, that I am confident I shall need no excuse for introducing it entire. His extensive and flourishing estates south-east of Leipzig have been the bloody cradle of regenerated freedom. The short space of a few days has converted them into a frightful desert, reduced opulent villages into smoking ruins; and plunged his Miserable tenants as well as himself into a state of extreme Want, until means can be found again to cultivate the soil and to rebuild the dwellings. He writes as follows:—
"It is with a sensation truly peculiar and extraordinary that I take up my pen to address you, to whom I had, some years since, the pleasure of writing several times on subjects of a very different kind: but it is that very difference between those times and the present, and the most wonderful series of events which have followed each other during that period in rapid succession, the ever-memorable occurrences of the last years and months, the astonishing success which rejoices all Europe, and has nevertheless plunged many thousands into inexpressible misery; it is all this that has long engaged my attention, and presses itself upon me at the moment I am writing. In events like these, every individual, however distant, must take some kind of interest, either as a merchant or a man of letters, a soldier or an artist; or, if none of these, at least as a man. How strongly the late events must interest every benevolent and humane mind I have no need to tell you, who must more feelingly sympathize in them from the circumstance that it is your native country, where the important question, whether the Continent of Europe should continue to wear an ignominious yoke, and whether it deserved the fetters of slavery, because it was not capable of bursting them, has been decisively answered by the greatest and the most sanguinary contest that has occurred for many ages. That same Saxony, which three centuries ago released part of the world from the no less galling yoke of religious bondage; which, according to history, has been the theatre of fifteen great battles; that same Saxony is now become the cradle of the political liberty of the Continent. But a power so firmly rooted could not be overthrown without the most energetic exertions; and, while millions are now raising the shouts of triumph, there are, in Saxony alone, a million of souls who are reduced to misery too severe to be capable of taking any part in the general joy, and who are now shedding the bitterest tears of abject wretchedness and want That such is the fact is confirmed to me by the situation of my acquaintance and neighbours, by that of my suffering tenants, and finally by my own. The ever-memorable and eventful battles of the 16th to the 19th of October began exactly upon and between my two estates of Stoermthal and Liebertwolkwitz. All that the oppressive imposts, contributions, and quarterings, as well as the rapacity of the yet unvanquished French, had spared, became on these tremendous days a prey to the flames, or was plundered by those who called themselves allies of our king, but whom the country itself acknowledged as such only through compulsion. Whoever could save his life with the clothes upon his back might boast of his good fortune; for many, who were obliged, with broken hearts, to leave their burning houses, lost their apparel also. Out of the produce of a tolerably plentiful harvest, not a grain is left for sowing; the little that was in the barns was consumed in bivouac, or, next morning, in spite of the prayers and entreaties of the owners, wantonly burned by the laughing fiends. Not a horse, not a cow, not a sheep, is now to be seen; nay, several species of animals appear to be wholly exterminated in Saxony. I have myself lost a flock of 2000 Spanish sheep, Tyrolese and Swiss cattle, all my horses, waggons, and household utensils. The very floors of my rooms were torn up; my plate, linen, and important papers and documents, were carried away and destroyed. Not a looking-glass, not a pane in the windows, or a chair, is left. The same calamity befell my wretched tenants, over whose misfortunes I would willingly forget my own. All is desolation and despair, aggravated by the certain prospect of epidemic diseases and famine. Who can relieve such misery, unless God should be pleased to do it by means of those generous individuals, to whom, in my own inability to help, I am now obliged to appeal?
"I apply, therefore, to you, Sir; and request you, out of love to your wretched country, which is so inexpressibly devastated, to solicit the aid of your opulent friends and acquaintance, who, with the generosity peculiar to the whole nation, may feel for the unmerited misery of others, in behalf of my wretched tenants in Liebertwolkwitz and Stoermthal. These poor and truly helpless unfortunates would, with tears, pay the tribute of their warmest gratitude to their generous benefactors, if they needed that gratitude in addition to the satisfaction resulting from so noble an action. You will not, I am sure, misunderstand my request, as it proceeds from a truly compassionate heart, but which, by its own losses, is reduced so low as to be unable to afford any relief to others. Should it ever be possible for me to serve you or any of your friends here, depend upon my doing all that lies within my poor ability. Meanwhile I remain, in expectation of your kind and speedy fulfilment of my request,
"Your most obedient friend and servant,
Leipzig, Nov. 22, 1813. To Mr. Ackermann, London.
"P.S.—I have been obliged, by the weakness of my sight, to employ another hand. I remember the friendly sentiments which you here testified for me with the liveliest gratitude. My patriotic way of thinking, which drew upon me also the hatred of the French government, occasioned me, four years since, to resign the post of ambassador, which I had held twenty-five years, and to retire from service."
From documents transmitted to the publisher by friends at Leipzig, have been selected the narratives contained in the following sheets, which were written by eye-witnesses of the facts there related. The principal object of their publication is not so much to expose tine atrocities of Gallic ruffians, as to awaken the sympathies and call forth the humanity of the British nation. Like that glorious luminary, whose genial rays vivify and invigorate all nature, Britain is looked up to by the whole civilized world for support against injustice, and for solace in distress. To her liberality the really unfortunate have never yet appealed in vain; and, with this experience before his eyes, the publisher confidently anticipates in behalf of his perishing countrymen the wonted exercise of that godlike quality, which
"—— droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven? And blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
 R. ACKERMANN would not feel himself justified in printing this letter, nor in presuming to make an appeal to the British public in behalf of the writer, were he not personally acquainted with the character of this unfortunate and patriotic nobleman, who is held in the highest veneration and respect for his benevolence to his numerous tenantry, his liberality to strangers, and his general philanthropy. To relieve the distresses which he has so pathetically described, the publisher solicits the contributions of the benevolent. A distinct book has been opened for that charitable-purpose at No. 101, Strand, in which even the smallest sums, with the names of the donors, may be entered, and to which, as well as to the original letter, reference may be made by those who feel disposed to peruse, them.
You know, my dear friend, how often I have expressed the inconsiderate wish to have some time or other an opportunity of witnessing a general engagement. This wish has now been accomplished, and in such a way as had well nigh proved fatal to myself; for my life had like to have been forfeited to my curiosity. I may boast, however, with perfect truth, that, during the four most tremendous days, I was wholly unaffected by that alarm and terror which had seized all around me. On those four days I was a near and undisturbed observer of a conflict which can scarcely be paralleled In the annals of the world: a conflict distinguished by a character which raises it far above your ordinary every-day battles. Its consequences will extend not to Europe only, but to regions separated from it by vast oceans. You must not expect from me a narrative that will enter into military details, but merely a faithful historical picture of what fell under my own observation; of what my own eyes, assisted by an excellent telescope, could discover from one of the highest buildings in the city, in the centre of operations, in the midst of a circumference of more than eighteen leagues; and what I saw and heard while venturing, at the hazard of my life, out of the city, not indeed up to the mouths of the infernal volcanoes, but close in the rear of the French lines, into the horrible bustle and tumult of the baggage-waggons and bivouacs. We were here exactly in the middle of the immense magic circle, where the incantations thundered forth from upwards of fifteen hundred engines of destruction annihilated many thousands, in order to produce a new creation. It was the conflict of the Titans against Olympus. It is unparalleled in regard to the commanders, great part of whom knew nothing of defeat but from the discomfiture of their opponents, and among whom were three emperors, a king, and the heir-apparent to a throne;—it is unparalleled in regard to the form, for it was fought in a circle which embraced more than fifteen miles;—it is unparalleled in regard to the prodigious armies engaged, for almost half a million of warriors out of every region of Europe and Asia, from the mouth of the Tajo to the Caucasus, with near two thousand pieces of cannon, were arrayed against one another;—it is unparalleled in regard to its duration, for it lasted almost one hundred hours;—it is unparalleled in regard to the plan so profoundly combined and so maturely digested by the allies, and characterized by an unity, which, in a gigantic mass, composed of such, multifarious parts, would have been previously deemed impossible;—it is unparalleled also in regard to its consequences, the full extent of which time alone can develop, and the first of which, the dissolution of the confederation of the Rhine, the overthrow of the Continental system, and the deliverance of Germany, are already before our eyes:—finally, it is unparalleled in regard to single extraordinary events, the most remarkable of which is, that the majority of the allies of the grand army, who had fought under the banners of France in so many engagements with exemplary valour and obstinacy, in the midst of this conflict, as if wakened by an electric shock, went over in large bodies, with their drums beating and with all their artillery, to the hostile legions, and immediately turned their arms against their former associates. The annals of modern warfare exhibit no examples of such a phenomenon, except upon the most contracted scale. You may possibly object, that in all this there is some exaggeration; and that, if I rate the battle of Leipzig so highly, it is only because I happened to be an eye-witness of it myself; that the French army is by no means annihilated; that in the uncommon talents of its leader it possesses a sure pledge that it will regain from its enemies those laurels which on various occasions they have ravished from it for a moment. You may employ other arguments of a similar kind; but to these I boldly reply, that neither do I consider the French army as annihilated; that such a calamity could scarcely befall a force which in the month of May, after ten engagements, numbered not less than 400,000 men, and was conducted by a general who had already won near fifty battles: but this I maintain, that the mighty eagle, which proudly aspired to encompass the whole globe in his flight, has had his wings crippled at Leipzig to such a degree, that in future he will scarcely be inclined to venture beyond the inaccessible crags which he has chosen for his retreat. For my part, I cannot help considering the battle of Leipzig as the same (only on an enlarged scale) as that gained near this very spot 180 years ago, by the great Gustavus Adolphus. In this conflict it was certainly decided that Napoleon, so far from being able to sustain such another engagement in Germany, will not have it in his power to make any stand on the right bank of the Rhine, nor recover himself till secure with the relics of his dispirited army behind the bulwarks of his own frontier.
Four times had the sun pursued his course over the immense field of battle before the die of Fate decided its issue. The whole horizon was enveloped in clouds of smoke and vapours; every moment fresh columns of fire shot up from the circumjacent villages; in all points were seen the incessant flashes of the guns, whose deep thunders, horribly intermingled with continual volleys of small arms, which frequently seemed quite close to the gates of the city, shook the very ground. Add to this the importance of the question which was to be resolved in this murderous contest, and you may form a faint conception of the anxiety, the wishes, the hopes,—in a word, of the cruel suspense which pervaded every bosom in this city.
To enable you to pursue the train of events, as far as I was capable of informing myself respecting them, I will endeavour to relate them as they occurred. It was not till the arrival of marshal Marmont with his corps of the army in this neighbourhood that any idea of the probability of a general engagement at Leipzig began to be entertained. That circumstance happened in the beginning of October. These guests brought along with them every species of misery and distress, which daily increased in proportion as those hosts of destroyers kept gradually swelling into a large army. They were joined from time to time by several other corps; the city was nearly surrounded by bivouacs; and, gracious God! what proceedings! what havoc!—We had frequently been informed that all Saxony, from Lusatia to the Elbe, resembled one vast desert, where nothing was to be seen but towns laid waste and plundered, villages reduced to ashes, naked and famishing inhabitants;—that there was no appearance of any other living creature; nay, not even a trace of vegetation remaining. These accounts we naturally regarded as exaggerations, little imagining that in a short time we should have to give to our distant friends the same details of horror respecting our own vicinity. Too true it is that no nation has made such progress in the art of refinement, and is so ingenious in devising infernal torments, as that, which, under the name of allies and protectors, has made us so inexpressibly wretched. Ever since the battle of Luetzen, Leipzig had been one of the principal resources of the grand French army, and they showed it no mercy. Numberless hospitals transformed it into one great infirmary; many thousands of troops, quartered in the habitations of the citizens, one prodigious corps de garde; and requisitions of meat, bread, rice, brandy, and other articles, one vast poor-house, where the indigent inhabitants were in danger of starving. But for this well-stored magazine, the great French army had long since been obliged to abandon the Elbe. No wonder then that this point should have been guarded with the utmost care. It required commissaries and inspectors, such as those who had the control over our store-houses and granaries, to complete the master-piece, to reduce that Leipzig, which had once patiently sustained, without being entirely exhausted, the burdens of a war that lasted seven years—to reduce it, I say, in six months, to so low an ebb, that even the opulent were in danger of perishing with hunger; that reputable citizens could no longer procure the coarsest fare; and that, though their hearts overflowed with pity and compassion, they were absolutely incapable of affording the slightest relief, not so much as a crust of bread, to the sick and wounded soldier. It is impossible to give you any idea of the dexterity and rapidity with which the French soldiers will so totally change the look of a village, a field, or a garden, that you shall not know it again, how well soever you may have been acquainted with it before. Such was the fate of Leipzig, and of the beautiful environs of our inner city-walls.
You must know that the bread and forage waggons of a great French army are destined merely, as they pass through the villages, to receive the stores collected from all the barns, cellars, lofts, and stables, which are taken by force from the wretched husbandman, who is beaten, cut, and mangled, till he puts-to his last horse, and till he carries his last sheaf of corn and his last loaf of bread to the next bivouac; and then he may think himself fortunate, if he is suffered to return home without horses or waggon, and is not compelled to accompany the depredators many miles without sustenance of any kind. In all other armies, whether Russians, Prussians, Austrians, or Swedes, when the troops are not drawn out in line of battle opposite to the enemy, in which case it is necessary to send back the carriages into the rear, care is always taken that waggons with bread and forage, and herds of cattle, shall follow the marching columns. Whenever the army halts, magazines are immediately established; and, if even the stores necessary for it are required at the cost of the country, this case bears no comparison with that where every attendant on the waggon-train is at full liberty to pillage till his rapacity is satisfied. Woe to the country where, as in our's, hundreds of thousands of such commissaries are allowed to exercise their destructive office at discretion! Ask the inhabitants of more than twenty villages round Leipzig, and many hundred others at a greater distance, which certainly fared no better, what soldiers they were who carried off roofs, doors, windows, floors, and every kind of household furniture and agricultural implements, and threw them like useless lumber into the watch-fires?—Ask those unfortunates what soldiers they were who pillaged barns and cellars, and ransacked every corner of the houses; who tore the scanty clothes from the backs of the poorest class; who broke open every box and chest, and who searched every dunghill, that nothing might escape them?—They will tell you that it was the so highly vaunted French guards, who always led the way, and were the instructors of their comrades.
It is a great misfortune for a country when, in time of war, the supply of the troops is left to themselves by the military authorities, and when that supply is calculated only from one day to another; but this calamity has no bounds when they are French troops who attack your stores. It is not enough for them to satisfy the calls of appetite; every article is an object of their rapacity: nothing whatever is left to the plundered victim. What they cannot cram into their knapsacks and cartouch-boxes is dashed in pieces and destroyed. Of the truth of this statement the environs of Leipzig might furnish a thousand proofs. The most fortunate of the inhabitants were those who in good time removed their stores and cattle to a place of safety, and left their houses to their fate. He who neglected this precaution, under the idea that the presence of the owner would be sufficient to restrain those locusts, of course lost his all. No sooner had he satisfied one party than another arrived to renew the demand; and thus they proceeded so long as a morsel or a drop was left in the house. When such a person had nothing more to give, he was treated with the utmost brutality, till at length, stripped of all, he was reluctantly compelled to abandon his home. If you should chance to find a horse or a cow, here and there, in the country round our city, imagine not that the animal was spared by French generosity:—no such thing! the owner must assuredly have concealed it in some hiding-place, where it escaped the prying eyes of the French soldiers. Nothing—absolutely nothing—was spared; the meanest bedstead of the meanest beggar was broken up as well as the most costly furniture from the apartments of the opulent. After they had slept upon the beds in the bivouacs, as they could not carry them away, they ripped them open, consigned the feathers to the winds, and sold the bed-clothes and ticking for a mere trifle. Neither the ox, nor the calf but two days old; neither the ewe, nor the lamb scarcely able to walk; neither the brood-hen, nor the tender chicken, was spared. All were carried off indiscriminately; whatever had life was slaughtered; and the fields were covered with calves, lambs, and poultry, which the troops were unable to consume. The cattle collected from far and near were driven along in immense herds with the baggage. Their cries for food in all the high roads were truly pitiable. Often did one of those wretches drive away several cows from the out-house of a little farmer, who in vain implored him upon his knees to spare his only means of subsistence, merely to sell them before his face for a most disproportionate price. Hay, oats, and every species of corn, were thrown unthreshed upon the ground, where they were consumed by the horses, or mostly trampled in the dirt; and if these animals had stood for some days in the stable, and been supplied with forage by the peasant, the rider had frequently the impudence to require his host to pay for the dung. Woe to the field of cabbages, turnips, or potatoes, that happened to lie near a bivouac! It was covered in a trice with men and cattle, and in twenty-four hours there was not a plant to be seen. Fruit-trees were cut down and used for fuel, or in the erection of sheds, which were left perhaps as soon as they were finished. Though Saxony is one of the richest and most fertile provinces of Germany, and the vicinity of Leipzig has been remarkable for abundance, yet it cannot appear surprising, that, with such wanton waste, famine, the most dangerous foe to an army, should have at length found its way into all the French camps. Barns, stables, and lofts, were emptied; the fields were laid bare; and the inhabitants fled into the woods and the towns. Bread and other provisions had not been seen in our markets for several days, and thus it was now our turn to endure the pressure of hunger. It was a fortunate circumstance that many families had laid in a quantity of potatoes, which indeed might yet be purchased, though at an exorbitant price. The bakers of this place were obliged to work up the small stock of flour in their possession for the use of the troops; and all other persons were driven from the doors by the guards with the butt-ends of their muskets; though the citizen who came in quest of bread had perhaps twenty men quartered upon him, who all expected him to find wherewith to satisfy their craving appetites.
Such was what might be termed the prologue to the grand tragedy which was about to be performed in an amphitheatre of many square miles, and to the catastrophe of which we looked forward with an anxiety that had risen to so high a pitch, because, in case of the longer continuance of this state of things, our own annihilation might be hourly expected. That the grand armies of the allies were approaching Leipzig, on every side, we had heard through several private channels. Napoleon had quitted Dresden, which he had been compelled to abandon almost solely by the want of all the means of subsistence. We were long uncertain respecting his route, and so perhaps was he himself at first. Many, who were qualified to form a judgment respecting military operation's, were of opinion that he would make a push with his whole force upon Berlin and the Oder. They supposed that those parts were not sufficiently covered, and considered the fortresses on the Elbe as his point d'appui in the rear. This opinion, however, seemed to lose much of its probability, as other French corps, under Ney, Regnier, Bertrand, and Marmont, kept arriving here, and were afterwards joined by that of Augereau. We had received authentic information that prince Schwarzenberg had already advanced to Altenburg with the grand combined army of Austria, Russia, and Prussia; and also that the crown-prince of Sweden had his head-quarters at Zoerbig. Upon the whole, however, our intelligence was unsatisfactory. For several days (that is to say, from the 10th) it was reported that the emperor of the French would certainly remove his head-quarters hither; that he had taken the road to Wurzen, and was coming by way of Duben. This account was confirmed by several detachments of the French guard. It is universally known that this general preferably chooses those days on which he founds his claim to glory, in order to distinguish them by new achievements. His proximity to us, and the approaching 14th of October, strengthened the anticipation of some important event in our neighbourhood. The light troops of the allies, whom we took for the advanced guard of the crown-prince of Sweden, were distinctly to be seen from the steeples of the city, on the north side of it, towards Breitenfeld and Lindenthal. Daily skirmishes ensued, and wounded French were hourly brought in. The bustle in the city increased; the king of Naples had arrived, and fixed his head-quarters at Konnewitz. Innumerable generals and staff-officers filled all the houses. Not a moment's rest was to be had; all were in bivouac. They seemed wholly ignorant of the motions of the allies; for the same troops who went out at one gate often returned before night at another; so that there was an incessant marching in and out at all the four principal avenues of the city. These movements of cavalry, infantry, and carriages, ceased not a moment even during the night It was very rarely that a troop of cavalry, sent out upon patrol or picket duty, returned without having lost several men and horses, who were invariably, according to their report, kidnapped by the Cossacks. Upon the whole, all the troops with whom the French had any rencounters were called by them Cossacks—a name which I have heard them repeat millions of times, and to which they never failed to add, that "the fellows had again set up a devilish hurrah."
The Cossacks are indisputably the troops of whom the French are most afraid. With them, therefore, all the light cavalry who come upon them unawares are sure to be Cossacks. In revenge for the many annoyances which they were incessantly suffering from these men, they applied to them the opprobrious epithet of brigands. Often did I take pains to convince them that troops who were serving their legitimate sovereign, and fighting under the conduct of their officers, could not be termed banditti; my representations had no effect,—they were determined to have some satisfaction for their disappointment in a thousand attempts to master such enemies. Their vanity was far too great to suffer them to do justice to those warriors; and they never would admit what thousands had witnessed, namely, that thirty French horse had frequently run away from two Cossacks. If Napoleon had twenty thousand Russian Cossacks in his service, the French journalists and editors of newspapers would scarcely be able to find terms strong enough to extol these troops; and the French have just reason to rejoice that the emperor Alexander has no such rivals of their government in his pay, otherwise we should hear of their exploits only, and the vaunted French horse-guards would long since have sunk into oblivion.
All the preparations that were making now evidently denoted that we were on the eve of important events. The French corps had already ranged themselves in a vast semicircle, extending from north to east, and thence to south-west. The country towards Merseburg and Weissenfels seemed to be merely observed. For this purpose the eminences beyond the village of Lindenau were occupied. Here the access to the city is the most difficult, a causeway only leading to it in this direction. The country on the right and left consists of swampy meadows and wood-land, every where intersected by ditches and muddy streams. If you inquired of the French officers what might be the total strength of their army about Leipzig, their statements were so various, that it was impossible to fix with the least confidence upon any number as a medium. By what standard, indeed, can you judge of a force rated by some at 150,000, by others at 400,000 men? They unanimously agreed, on the other hand, that the allies would be opposed by fifteen corps, exclusively of the guards. I had an opportunity of forming a tolerably correct estimate of one division of Marmont's corps, which consisted at the utmost of 4000, so that the whole might amount to 12,000 men; and it was one of those which, in comparison of others, had sustained the least loss. Even that of Augereau, which was incontestably the most complete, as it had just come out of cantonments, was computed at scarcely 15,000 men. If, then, we take 10,000 for the average, the total amount of the French armies collected near Leipzig, as the wrecks only of several were then remaining, can scarcely have reached 170,000, even including the guards. Such a force, however, commanded by so many generals who had heretofore been acknowledged the ablest in Europe, together with wore than 600 pieces of artillery, was still fully sufficient to make itself respected, and even feared, by an enemy of double its number. One single species of troops alone was below mediocrity:—the cavalry, both in regard to the horses and the men, the former from weakness and want of sustenance, and the latter from ignorance of their business. With the force of the allies we are yet unacquainted, but at all events they must have been more numerous.
The 14th of October at length dawned. It had preceded by several rainy days; but this was merely lowering. The cannon thundered at intervals towards Liebertwolkwitz. In the forenoon wounded French, chiefly cavalry, kept coming in singly. With whom they had been engaged they knew not—Cossacks, of course. We looked forward with certainty to a general engagement. It became every hour more dangerous for the inquisitive to venture out or in at the gates. There was no end to the marching of horse and foot and the rolling of carriages; at every ten paces you met in all directions with corps de garde, by whom every non-military person without distinction was ordered back, sometimes with fair words, and at others with rudeness. Several couriers had been sent forward to announce the speedy arrival of the king of Saxony and Napoleon. The hero of the age, as he has been styled, actually came about noon, not, as we anticipated, by the Dresden road, but by that from Berlin. He passed hastily through the city, and out at the farthest Grimma gate, attended by some battalions and squadrons of his guards. A camp-chair and a table were brought in all haste, and a great watch-fire kindled in the open field; not far from the gallows. The guards bivouacked on the right and left. The emperor took possession of the head-quarters prepared for him, which were any thing but magnificent, being surrounded only by the relics of the stalks and leaves of the cabbages consumed by his soldiers, and other matters still more offensive. The table was instantly covered with maps, over which the emperor pored most attentively for a considerable time. Of what was passing around him he seemed not to take the smallest notice. The spectators, of whom I was one, crowded pretty close about him. On occasion of his visit to the city, a few months before, the French had discovered that the people of Leipzig were not so malicious as they had been represented, but tolerably good-natured creatures. They were therefore allowed to approach unobstructed within twenty paces. A long train of carriages from the Wurzen road, the cracking of the whips of the postilions, together with a great number of horse-soldiers and tall grenadiers, announced the arrival of another distinguished personage, and called the attention of the by-standers that way. It was the king of Saxony, with his guards and retinue. He alighted, and a kind salutation ensued between him and his august ally. The king soon afterwards mounted a horse, and thus proceeded into the city. Napoleon meanwhile remained where he was. He sometimes rose from his seat, went up to the watch-fire, held his hands over it, rubbed them, and then placed them behind him, whilst with his foot he pushed the wood, consisting of dry boards and rafters from the nearest houses, into the flame, to make it burn more fiercely. At the same time he very frequently took snuff, of which he seemed to have but a small quantity left in his gold box. At last he scraped together what was left with his finger, and poured it out upon his hand. When all was gone, he opened the box several times and smelt to it, without applying to any of the marshals and generals around him to relieve his want. As the discharges of artillery towards Probstheide grew more and more general and alarming, and the wounded kept returning in continually increasing numbers, I was rather surprised that the commander should, on this occasion, contrary to his usual custom, quietly remain so far from the field of battle, which was near ten miles distant, apparently without giving himself the least concern about the event.
It was about four in the afternoon when one of his aid-de-camps came at full speed from the city, and made a report. The drums instantly beat to arms, and the divisions of the guards broke up. The emperor immediately mounted his horse, and followed them. He directed his course towards the Kohlgaerten, leaving the field of battle on the right. I soon perceived the cause of this movement: the message informed him of the arrival of the whole of his guards, for whom he had been waiting. They came from Dueben, entering by the Halle gate, and now made a countermarch upon Dresden. When I beheld their endless files and cannon without number pouring out of the city, I certainly gave up the allies for lost. I was thoroughly convinced that Napoleon had no other plan than to strike off to the right behind the Kohlgaerten, with his new army, and, proceeding from Stoetteritz, to turn his enemies on the right flank, and, as he had often done before, to attack and annihilate them. I was however egregiously mistaken. The emperor went with his retinue scarcely a thousand paces, to the first houses of the Kohlgaerten, where he took up his quarters, and quietly passed the night. The guards and the whole train likewise stopped in that neighbourhood, and there bivouacked. It grew dark. The palisades at the gate had left but a narrow passage, through which troops and artillery kept pouring without intermission. People on horseback and on foot, who wanted to return into the city, had been already detained for several successive hours; the crowd every moment increased, and with it the danger. To seek another entrance was impracticable, as a person would run the risk of being detained by the thousands of pickets, and shot, or at least dragged to the filthiest bivouacs. The night was dark as pitch, and no hope left of getting home. It rained fast, and not a corner was to be found where you might take shelter. I was in the midst of more than a thousand horses, which threatened every moment to trample me under their feet. Fortunately for me, they were all tolerably quiet The thunder of the artillery had long ceased; but, had it even continued, it could not possibly have been heard amidst the rattling of carriages and cannon; the shouts of soldiers and officers, as sometimes cavalry, at others infantry, wanted to pass first; the incessant cursing, cracking, pushing, and thrusting. Never while I live shall I witness such a scene of confusion, of which indeed it is impossible to convey any conception. It continued without intermission from four in the afternoon till twelve at night, so that you may figure to yourself the disagreeable situation in which I was placed. No sooner had the first columns arrived at their bivouacs in the neighbouring villages, than a thousand messengers came to announce the intelligence in a way that sufficiently proved what unwelcome visitors they were. Weeping mothers with beds packed up in baskets, leading two or three stark-naked children by the hand, and with perhaps another infant at their back; fathers seeking their wives and families; children, who had lost their parents in the crowd trucks with sick persons forcing their way among the thousands of horses; cries of misery and despair in every quarter:—such were the heralds that most feelingly proclaimed the presence of the warriors who have been celebrated in so many regions, and whose imposing appearance has been so often admired, all these unfortunates crowded into the filthy corner formed by the old hospital and the wall at the Kohlgaerten-gate. Their cries and lamentations were intermingled with the moans and groans of the wounded who were going to the hospitals, and who earnestly solicited bread and relief. A number of French soldiers, probably such as had loitered in the rear, searched every basket and every pocket for provisions. They turned without ceremony the sleeping infants out of the baskets, and cared not how the enraged mothers lacerated their faces in return. The scenes of horror changed so quickly, that you could not dwell more than half a minute upon any of them. The tenderest heart became torpid and insensible. One tale of woe followed on the heels of another,—"Such a person too has been plundered!—Such an one's house has been set on fire!—This man is cut in pieces; that has been transfixed with the bayonet!—Those poor creatures are seeking their children!"—These were the tidings brought by every new fugitive. If you asked the French when the march would be over, you received the consolatory answer—"Not before six o'clock in the morning." During the night the sound of drums and trumpets incessantly announced the arrival of fresh regiments. At length, about midnight, the bustle somewhat subsided, at least so far as regarded the marching of troops. I now seized the favourable moment, and felt myself as it were a new creature; when, having made my way through the crowd of horses with extraordinary courage and dexterity, I once more set foot in the city. Thus the morning and the evening completed the first day of horror.
Notwithstanding the unpleasant circumstances in which my curiosity had involved me on the preceding day, I had in fact seen and heard nothing as far as related to my principal object. It was no battle, but merely an indecisive, though warm, affair. The first act of the piece concluded with aft illumination extending farther than the eye could reach, and occasioned by the innumerable watch-fires which were kindled in every quarter, and gradually spread farther and farther, as the lines of the bivouacking army were lengthened by the arrival of fresh columns. By way of variety, the flames rising from a number of burning houses in the distance formed as it were points of repose. Scarcely was the night over when all eyes and ears were on the alert, in expectation that the sanguinary scene would commence with the morning's dawn. All, however, remained quiet. People, therefore, again ventured abroad, and there thought themselves more secure than the preceding day, because they might the more easily avoid the danger while at a distance-than they could have done the night before. It required, to be sure, considerable strength of nerves not to be shocked at the spectacles which every where presented themselves. Many dead bodies of soldiers, who had come sick into bivouac, lay naked in the fields and upon the roads. The heirs had taken especial care to be on the spot at the moment of their decease, to take possession of all that the poor wretches had to bequeath. The mortality among the horses had been still greater: you met with their carcasses almost at every step; and, which way soever you turned your eyes, you beheld a still greater number which Death had so firmly seized in his iron grasp, that they inclined their heads to the ground, and fell, in a few minutes, to rise no more! Scarcely was there sufficient room on the high road for a slender pedestrian to find a passage. All the fields were covered with troops and baggage. Even on the place of execution they had erected bivouacs, and not the most inconvenient, because they were there less crowded than in other places. Except single musket-shots, nothing was to be heard but incessant cries of Serrez! Serrez! (Closer! Closer!)—The dice yet lay in the box, and were not destined to be thrown that day. It was probably spent in reconnoitring, in order to make up the parties for the grand game in which empires were the stake. The preparations for the defence of the city became more serious and alarming. The exterior avenues had been previously palisaded, and provided with chevaux de frise; but the greater part of them were completely closed up. Loop-holes were formed in every wall, and tirailleurs posted behind them. In every garden and at every hedge you stumbled upon pickets. As the inner town is better secured by its strong walls against a first onset, they contented themselves there with sawing holes in the great wooden gates, for the purpose of firing through them. Every thing denoted the determination not to spare the city in the least, however unfit in itself for a point of defence. The only circumstance calculated to tranquillize the timid was the presence of our king, for whom, at any rate, Napoleon could not but have some respect.
As there was no appearance of gleaning much information abroad, I now sought a wider prospect upon a steeple.—So much I had ascertained from all accounts, that it was principally the Austrians who had been engaged the preceding day. Some hundreds of prisoners had been brought in; the church-yard had been allotted to these poor fellows for their abode, probably that they might study the inscriptions on the grave-stones, and thus be reminded of their mortality. Nothing was given them to eat, lest they should be disturbed in these meditations. So far as the telescope would command were to be seen double and triple lines, the end of which the eye sought in vain. The French army stretched in a vast semicircle from Paunsdorf to Probstheide, and was lost in the woods of Konnewitz. It occupied therefore a space of more than one German mile (five English miles). Behind all these lines appeared reserves, who were posted nearer to the city. On this side the main force seemed to be assembled. Towards the north and west the ranks were more broken and detached. Of the armies of the allies, only some divisions could yet be discerned. The Cossacks were plainly distinguished at a distance of two leagues. They had the boldness to venture within musket-shot of the French lines, alight, thrust their pikes into the ground, and let their horses run about. The king of Saxony himself witnessed their audacity whilst in the midst of the French army, about half a league from Leipzig. A number of these men came unawares upon him; and a Saxon officer, with eighty horse, was obliged to face about against them, till the king had reached a place of safety. This was the principal reason why he made his entry into the city on horseback.
The 15th of October, which had been universally expected to give birth to important events, was now quietly passed. For many weeks the city had not been so tranquil as it was on the night of that day. Nothing but the incessant Qui vive? at the gates, denoted the presence of the troops. On my return about eight o'clock from the suburbs, I was suddenly surprised by an unusual phenomenon: in the direction of Pegau, I saw three white rockets ascend to a great height amid the darkness. I stood still, and waited to observe what would follow. In about a minute four red ones rose above the horizon, apparently from Halle. After this there was nothing more to be seen. That they were signals could not be doubted, any more than that those signals must have been made by the combined troops. I concluded that they must have armies in those quarters, and that they were informing one another by these luminous messengers of the points at which they had arrived. It now became more certain than ever that the 16th would be the great day that should decide the fate of Germany. I expressed my conjectures to several French officers, that, according to all appearance, fresh armies of the allies were on their march toward Leipzig. They contradicted me point-blank; partly because, as they said, the crown-prince of Sweden and general Bluecher had been obliged to retreat precipitately across the Elbe, as an immense French army was in full march upon Berlin; and partly because they were convinced that the reinforcements which might be coming up could be of no great consequence; and were confident, that, at all events, they should be perfectly prepared to receive the enemy. Never did they make so sure of the most complete victory as they did previously to the then approaching engagement. Besides the French in garrison in the city, there were many German troops, who expressed little hope, and, on the other hand, declared their resolution to make no resistance, but to pass over to the allies, as many of their comrades had already done; and there was no reason to doubt their sincerity.—Thus passed the second day, between hope and fear.
The dawn of the 16th of October was enveloped in a thick fog. It was gloomy, rainy, and cold. It was imagined that the hostile armies, though so eager for the combat, would restrain their ardour to engage till the fog should have cleared away. Soon after six, however, the thunder of the artillery began to roll from Liebertwolkwitz. It grew more violent, and approached nearer;—this was probably the moment when the Austrians stormed that place. The firing en pelotons was already heard. From our elevated position we could discern nothing, the dense fog concealing every object at the distance of one hundred paces. About ten, the artillery thundered along the whole line of battle. The atmosphere became clearer, and the clouds dispersed. Every flash from the cannon was distinctly visible on the side of Konnewitz. Already a thousand engines of death hurled destruction among the contending armies. The fire of jaegers and sharp-shooters rattled on all sides, and we soon discovered whole ranges of battalions and regiments. It was a general engagement;—that was evident enough to every one, even though he had never before heard a cannon fired in all his life. On the side of the Halle and Ranstaedt gates all was yet quiet, and I began to imagine that my rockets had deceived me. For six hours the guns had roared, and all the lines were enveloped in clouds of smoke, through which the flashes incessantly darted like lightning. As yet neither party seemed to have receded an inch. The thunders of the artillery still continued to proceed from the same spot. No longer could the firing of single guns be distinguished; hundreds were every moment discharged, and united in one single protracted roar. How many victims must already have strewed the field!—At length, about eleven o'clock, a considerable change seemed to have taken place. The firing did not appear more distant, but became less general; single shots were heard, and the combatants seemed disposed to make a pause in the work of death. All on a sudden a new and tremendous cannonade commenced beyond Lindenau, towards Luetzen, not much more than half a league from the city. The batteries of the allies seemed to fire from Kleinschocher: those of the French were posted on the heights of Lindenau. The corps of count Giulay had arrived there, and now it appeared that my interpretation of the rockets was correct. I then turned my eyes quickly towards the north, in the direction of Halle, where before there was little or nothing to be seen. How was I astonished when I now beheld lines of soldiers stretching farther than the eye could reach, and fresh columns advancing behind them. It appeared as if the troops which had been so furiously engaged the whole morning were but the advanced guards of the immense armies that now extended themselves more and more before me. Whence the French lines which were so rapidly ranged opposite to them could have sprung, I am yet at a loss to conceive: an hour before, I should have estimated them at scarcely 10,000 men; and, what I now saw, my inexperienced eye computed at more than 200,000 on both sides. This prodigious army seemed about to form in order of battle. A few cannon-shot which it fired were probably designed only to announce its arrival to the other chiefs. Immediately afterwards, the cannonade beyond Lindenau, which had lasted about two hours, entirely ceased. On the left wing of the French the action was still very vigorously continued. It was about twelve o'clock when we descended, to learn what accounts had meanwhile been received in the city, that our relations with the lower world might not be totally suspended. Before the residence of our sovereign there was a crowd of officers of all ranks. The city-guard was drawn out on parade as well as the grenadier-guard. A full band was playing, by French order, though nobody could conceive what was the meaning of all this, while the cannon were yet thundering before the city. We soon learned that the allies had sustained a total defeat; that an Austrian prince, the archduke Ferdinand, had lost an arm, and been taken prisoner with 40,000 men; and that an immense quantity of artillery had been captured. This intelligence had been forwarded by marshal Ney from the field of battle, and preparations were instantly made to celebrate the victory. A regiment of the French guards marched to the promenade before the city—now, alas! an offensive sewer,—and, agreeably to command, expressed their exultation in the acquisition of these new laurels by a loud Vive l'empereur! Of the citizens, but a very small portion took part in their joy; for what else could they have expected from such a victory than inevitable death by famine? The more intelligent shook their heads; and in truth there were but too many reasons to suspect the truth of the account. If you asked the wounded, who in troops either hobbled or were carried in at the gates, the answer, was, Les Cossaques ont encore la meme position—(The Cossacks are still in the same position). None of them had heard any thing about captured cannon, but they well knew that they had themselves lost five pieces that morning. I was unable to comprehend how the French commander-in-chief, possessing in so eminent a degree the quality of a correct military coup d'oeil, could so early announce that he had won the battle, when such numerous armies of the allies had but just arrived upon the field, and had not yet fired a single shot. Country-people, who had fled from the neighbourhood of Grimma, declared that a fresh army of Russians, under general Bennigsen, was in full march towards that place. In truth, only a small part of the allied forces had yet been engaged. Bennigsen, the crown-prince of Sweden, and field-marshal Bluecher, had not yet entered the lists. If this fiction was intended merely to pacify our king at the expense of truth, it was evident that this object could not be attained without compromising him;—a kind of treatment wholly unmerited by a prince who was never guilty of wilful falsehood.
In the midst of these rejoicings for the victory, the thunder of the artillery was again heard from Lindenau. The tremendous roar was almost immediately repeated from Taucha, Wiederitsch, and Breitenfeld. The Swedish army and that of Bluecher were now engaged. We again repaired to our lofty station. There was not a point round the city where the fatal engines were not dealing forth destruction. We knew not which way first to direct the glass. "Only look here," cried one. "Oh! that's nothing at all," replied another, "you must come this way."—"You none of you see any thing," exclaimed a third: "you must look yonder—there the cavalry are cutting away—and hark how the fresh artillery is beginning to fire." It was singular enough that just at the very point where the allies were reported to have sustained so signal a defeat, that is to say, on their left wing, at Liebertwolkwitz, the cannonade again became the most violent. Fresh troops, with artillery, including a large body of Polish cavalry, were seen hastening out by the Ranstaedt gate towards Lindenau. Napoleon himself rode with the king of Naples along the causeway to the Kuhthurm (cow-tower), as it is called, probably to observe how things were going on. The allies strove to make themselves masters of the pass near Lindenau. Their infantry had actually penetrated into the village, but was driven back, and this was succeeded by a tremendous fire of riflemen, which was near enough for us to distinguish the discharge of every single piece. I remarked on this occasion the incredible exertions of the French voltigeurs, who defended a ditch near the Kuhthurm, ran to and fro on the bank with inconceivable agility, availed themselves of the protection afforded by every tree and every hedge, and fired away as briskly as though they had carried with them the confederation of the Rhine, as their own property, in their cartouch-boxes. Cannon-balls and shells had fallen in the village itself, which was set on fire in several places. Whether friend or enemy had the advantage it was impossible to judge, on account of the broken nature of the ground and the woods, behind which the engagement was the hottest It was evident that one party exerted itself as strenuously to defend as the other did to take this important position. The French retained it; therefore the prize of victory in this instance must be adjudged to them. At Breitenfeld, Lindenthal, and Wiederitsch, the fortune of the day was different. There the lines of the allies evidently advanced. The cannonade was an infallible barometer. The French artillery receded, and was already driven back so close upon Gohlis and Eutritzsch, that the balls of their opponents fell in both villages. Night drew on: the vast field of battle became gradually enveloped in darkness, and the horizon was now illumined by the flashes of the guns alone, followed at long intervals by the low thunder of the report. The battle had lasted the whole day all round the city. The church-clocks struck six; and, as if all parties had unanimously agreed to suspend at this moment the horrid work of slaughter, the last cannon-shot was fired beyond Lindenau. The fire of small arms, however, was yet kept up; but, as though the mortal struggle became more and more faint, that too gradually ceased. Nothing now was seen around the horizon but one immense circle of many thousand watch-fires. In all directions appeared blazing villages, and from their number might be inferred the havoc occasioned by this arduous day. Its effects were still more plainly manifested when we descended into the streets. Thousands of wounded had poured in at all the gates, and every moment increased their numbers. Many had lost an arm or a leg, and yet limped along with pitiable moans. As for a dressing for their wounds, that was a thing which could not yet be thought of; the poor wretches had themselves bound them up with some old rag or other as well as they were able. All of them were seeking hospitals, the arrangements for which had, in truth, been most miserably neglected by the French. Upon the whole, I have had occasion to remark that the soldier, who has been crippled in the service, and incapacitated for further warfare, has nowhere so little regard paid to his situation as in the French army. At least such is the case just at the moment when he has most need of attention, that is to say, just after he is wounded. No carriages or other conveyances were provided for the removal of these mangled and mutilated soldiers, though the lives of thousands might perhaps have been preserved by such a precaution. When the combined Russian and Prussian army marched six months before to Luetzen, and prepared for battle, the amplest provision was made in regard to this point; and it is well known that their army was thus enabled to carry off by far the greater part of the wounded, and to afford them medical relief. Such, on the contrary, were the arrangements of the French, that, five days after that engagement, soldiers with their wounds still undressed, and near perishing for want of sustenance, were found on the field of battle, and at last owed their preservation chiefly to the surgeons and inhabitants of this city. To each French column are attached a great number of ambulances, but they are never to be found where they are most wanted. It is universally asserted that the French army surgeons are very skilful men; but, as they seem to consult their own convenience in a very high degree, and their number is too small—for a complete regiment has but five—the arrangements for hospitals in a campaign during which several great battles take place, and in which it is found necessary to crowd the sick and wounded much too closely together, as was the case in Saxony, are always most deplorable. But to return from this digression:—
For the reception of the wounded, in this instance, orders had been given to clear out the corn-magazine, which is capable of accommodating about 2,500. Each of these poor fellows received a written ticket at the outer gate of the city, and was directed to that hospital. The persons who superintended this business never gave it a thought to distribute only such a number of these billets as the building would hold of sick, but continued to send all that came to the corn-magazine, long after it was too full to admit another individual. Overjoyed on having at last found the spot, the wretched cripple exerted his last remains of strength, that he might obtain relief as speedily as possible at the hands of the surgeons. Judge then of the feelings of the unfortunate man when his hopes were here most cruelly disappointed; when he found many hundreds of his fellow-sufferers moaning with anguish on the wet stones, without straw to lie upon, without shelter of any kind, without medical or surgical attendance, nay, even without a drop of water, for which they so often and so earnestly petitioned;—when he was peremptorily refused admittance at the door, and he too had no other resource than to seek a couch like the rest upon the hard pavement, which his wounds very often were unable to endure. No more attention was here paid to him than the stones on which he gave vent to his anguish. Many hobbled farther in quest of something to appease the cravings of hunger and thirst. But who could give it them? Extreme want had long prevailed in the city; the very inhabitants had great trouble and difficulty to obtain for money sufficient to make a scanty meal for themselves and their families. The fainting soldier might think himself fortunate if his solicitations procured him a crust of bread or an apple. Thousands were not so lucky.—Such was the state of things at the magazine; such was the spectacle exhibited in all the streets, and especially in the market-place, where every corner provided with a shelter was converted into an hospital. The consequences were inevitable. Many; as might naturally be expected, perished, in the night, of hunger, agony, and cold. Their lot was enviable—they no longer needed any human assistance. What heart would not have bled at such scenes of horror!—and yet it was the very countrymen of these unfortunate wretches who seemed to care the least about them, and passed by with the most frigid indifference, probably because they are so familiarized with such spectacles. O ye mothers, ye fathers, ye sisters of France, had ye here beheld your agonized sons and brothers, the sight, like a hideous phantom, would surely have haunted you to the last moment of your lives. The laurels acquired by your nation have indeed been purchased at a most exorbitant price.
I have forgotten to mention a circumstance worthy of notice in the history of this day. It is this; that in the midst of the cannonade all round Leipzig—when the whole city shook with the thunders of the artillery, and the general engagement had, strictly speaking, but just commenced—all the bells of the churches were rung by French command, to celebrate the victory won in the forenoon. Such an instance was certainly never afforded by any battle which had scarcely begun, and terminated in the total and decisive overthrow of him who had already fancied himself mounted in triumph upon the car of victory. This day, however, the engagement still remained undecided, according to the reports of those who returned from different points of the field of battle. The French had stood as if rooted to the spot—the allies, like rocks of granite. The former had fought like men, the latter like lions. Both parties, inspired with mutual respect, desisted from hostilities during the night.
The combined troops, who had not been able in two sanguinary days to bring the contest to an issue, had, however, during that time gained several essential advantages. They had ascertained the strength of their antagonist, and made themselves acquainted with the nature of the ground. They knew what points were the most vulnerable, and could thence infer how the enemy would manoeuvre. They were enabled to make their own dispositions accordingly, and to give to the plan of the grand engagement that perfection by which it is so peculiarly characterized. In this point of view the allies had, without our suspecting it, advanced a considerable step on the night of the third day.
According to the general opinion of the inhabitants of Leipzig, the 17th was destined to be the important day on which the last act of the great tragedy was to be performed. We were, however, mistaken. The morning came, and we heard nothing from either side. We had long ceased to take notice of single shots. The French lines occupied Probstheide, and all the points where they had the preceding day been posted. The order of battle had, however, been considerably changed. The vast armies which had been drawn up to the west and north had almost entirely disappeared. In the forenoon a cannonade commenced about Gohlis, but soon ceased again. In the meadows between the city and Lindenau were posted some cavalry. At a greater distance but few troops were to be seen; and the allies seemed to have renounced any farther attempts on that pass. The left wing of the French grand army extended to Abtnaundorf, and had strong corps posted as far as Taucha; the centre stretched behind the Kohlgaerten and Stoetteritz to Probstheide, and the right wing reached beyond Konnewitz to the wood and the Elster. Several lines were advanced to Markleeberg. The combined army occupied parallel positions. You will not expect me to say more respecting the order of battle, especially as a circumstantial account of it has already appeared. The motives which occasioned a kind of truce to be observed during the whole of this day are unknown to me. This phenomenon was, the more surprising, as Napoleon is not accustomed long to defer business of such importance. From what I can learn, there was no parleying, as has been asserted, between the contending parties. Several Frenchmen assigned, as a reason, that the emperor expected a strong reinforcement of three corps, and therefore undertook nothing on this day. On all sides columns of smoke were yet seen rising from the villages that were reduced to ashes. All at once the church of Probstheide also appeared in flames. It soon fell in, and is now totally demolished. This fire is said to have been occasioned by negligence.
All the large edifices in the city were now selected for the purpose of being converted into hospitals. The number of the wounded kept continually augmenting, and by far the greatest part of them had still no other shelter than the streets. Many, though after three days of suffering, were yet unable to obtain any assistance. The king resolutely remained in the city, in order, as the event shewed, there to await his fate, whatever it might be. Our condition became every moment more alarming; and, in proportion as our anxiety grew more painful, our hopes diminished. What will become of us before this time to-morrow? was the general question on the evening of that day, and we looked forward with dejection and despondency to the morrow's dawn. We felt much less anxiety in the midst of the thunder of the artillery than we did at the close of this fourth day. It resembled the dead calm which precedes the impending storm. The combined troops took their leave of us for the night, as they had done on the preceding, with the discharge of three cannon. It had been Sunday, and you might almost have imagined that the contending parties had suffered it to pass thus peaceably, out of respect to the commandment—Thou shalt keep the sabbath-day holy.
The 18th of October at length appeared. It was a day equal in importance to many a century; and the fewer History can produce that deserve to be classed along with it, the more memorable it will remain. All that preceded it had merely opened the way, and there were yet almost inaccessible cliffs to climb before we could flatter ourselves with the hope of reaching the wished-for goal. The leaders of the allies had already shewn the ablest French generals, in several grand engagements, that they possessed sufficient means and talents to dissolve the charm of their invincibility. They were now about to enter the lists with the hero whom a thousand panegyrists, during a period of near twenty years, had extolled far above the greatest generals of ancient and modern times; whose enemies had to boast of but one victory over him at most—a victory which he himself did not admit, as he ascribed the total destruction of his army in Russia to physical causes alone. It was the conqueror of Marengo, Austerlitz, Friedland, Ratisbon, Wagram, and Mojaisk. Fresh laurels entwined his brow at Luetzen, Bautzen, and Dresden. Here at Leipzig the allies attempted to wrest them from him who grasps so firmly. It was easy to foresee that with unshaken resolution he would risk all, in order, as on former occasions, to gain all, and to put an end to the campaign with a single blow. He seemed to contemplate nothing less than the utter annihilation of the allies, as all the bridges far and near were broken down to cut off their retreat. Whether the situation in which he had placed himself was such as to justify these hopes, I shall leave to the decision of those who are better qualified to judge. His confidence in victory must, however, have been very strong, as he had made such inadequate preparations for his own retreat.
The action commenced in the centre of the French army beyond Probstheide, probably with the storming of the villages in its front, for we afterwards learned that they were several times taken and recovered. They have been more or less reduced to heaps of rubbish. That the work of slaughter might be completed on this day, it had been begun with the first dawn of morning. So early as nine o'clock all the immense lines from Taucha to Konnewitz were engaged. As the latter village lay nearest to us, we could see what was passing there the most distinctly. From Loesnig, a village situated beyond Konnewitz, a hollow, about two thousand paces in length, runs from north-west to south-east. It is bordered with a narrow skirt of wood, consisting of alders, limes, and oaks, and forms an angle with the village. Beyond this line were advanced several French batteries, the incessant movements of which, as well as every single shot, might be clearly distinguished with our glasses. To make myself better acquainted with this neighbourhood, I explored two days afterwards this part of the field of battle, and found that the French artillery must there have formed an open triangle; for the road which runs straight from Leipzig, behind Konnewitz through Dehlis and Loesnig, of course from north to south, was also lined by French batteries. The houses of those villages had served them for a point d'appui in the rear, and were most of them dreadfully shattered by the balls of the Austrians. The artillery of the latter seems to have had a great advantage in regard to the ground. The French cannon brought into the line from Konnewitz to Dehlis and Loesnig stood in a hollow—those of the Austrians on eminences. These last had moreover the advantage of enfilading the two angles formed by the batteries of the French. That this had actually been the case was evident from the numbers of French cannoniers and horses lying dead in rows in the line of the above-mentioned villages, where they had been swept down by the guns of their opponents. On the eminences where the hostile cannon were planted the number of dead was much smaller, and these were apparently not artillery-men, but infantry, who were probably engaged in covering those batteries. The firearms which lay beside them confirmed the conjecture. This pass must nevertheless have been obstinately defended, as it was not taken the whole day. The fire of musketry grew more and more brisk—a proof that the combatants were already in close action. The French tirailleurs could not be driven out of the woods, on which their right wing was supported. We remarked frequent charges of cavalry, which seemed to decide nothing. All the villages lying beyond Konnewitz, on the road to Borna, as far as Markleeberg, were on fire. The thunder from the French centre, as well as from the left wing, gradually approached nearer to the city. The seventh corps, under general Reynier, was in the left wing, and posted towards Taucha. It was principally composed of Saxons. They had just come into action, and the allies had already brought up a great number of guns against them. To the no small astonishment and consternation of their leader, they suddenly shouldered their arms, marched forward in close files with their artillery, and went over to the enemy. Several French battalions, misled by this movement, joined them, and were immediately disarmed and made prisoners by the allies. The French cuirassiers, suspecting the design of the Saxons, followed, apparently with the intention of falling upon them. The Saxons faced about, and compelled them, by a smart fire of musketry, to return. A volley of small arms was discharged after them, but with no more effect—it did them no injury. Their horse-artillery turned about, and soon dismounted that of the French. They were greeted with a joyful hurrah! by the Cossacks, who cordially shook hands with their new comrades. The Saxons desired to be immediately led back to the attack of the French. The hearts of these soldiers individually had long glowed with revenge for all the devastations committed in their native land by their allies and companions in arms, for whom they had so often shed their blood in torrents. The generals of the allies refused on very good grounds to comply with their desire. The Saxons marched a league into the rear of the field of battle, and there bivouacked. Their artillery only was afterwards invited to take part in the engagement, and did great execution. This circumstance had an essential influence on the issue of the contest, inasmuch as the defection of a body of more than 8000 men facilitated the advance of the right wing of the allies. But for this step the Saxons would have fared very badly, as their opponents had already ranged upwards of thirty pieces of cannon against their line, and were bringing up still more to the attack. These now proved the more galling to the ranks of the French, who were driven back almost to the Kohlgaerten. From my position this advance of the allies was not to be perceived except by the approach of the thunder of the artillery. The French centre yet stood immoveable; at least we could not observe from the city any change which denoted a retrograde movement. The sanguinary character of this tremendous conflict might be inferred from the thousands of wounded, who hobbled, crawled, and were carried in at the gates. Among the latter were many officers of rank. If you inquired of those who returned from the field, how the battle was going on, the reply almost invariably was—"Badly enough,—the enemy is very strong." A Saxon cuirassier declared, without reserve, that it might be considered as decided, adding, "We have lost a deal of ground already."—Stoetteritz and Schoenefeld were stormed the same evening. All the streets were covered with wounded, and fortunate were they who could find a shelter. As for surgical aid and refreshments, these were not to be thought of. A far greater number of those miserable wretches were yet left behind in the villages, as might be seen from the detached limbs, which were piled in heaps, especially at Probstheide.
Had any of the allied corps succeeded this day in penetrating on any side into our city, nothing less than the total destruction of the French army would probably have been the consequence; since it might from this place, as from the centre of the field of battle, have fallen upon the rear of any part of the French force, and have hemmed in both the centre and the wings. This misfortune Napoleon had taken good care to prevent. He now felt, however, that his strength was broken, and that he was no longer in a condition to maintain the contest. He resolved upon retreat, but carefully sought to conceal this intention from his enemies. Though night had come on; yet the cannon thundered as furiously as in the morning, and the fire of musketry was brisker than ever. A long column, with an endless train of artillery, was seen defiling from Probstheide to Konnewitz. Again I trembled for the cause of the allies. These, I imagined, were the French guards, marching to the attack of the right wing. Now methought the moment had arrived when Napoleon would strike the decisive blow, which he had so often deferred till the very last hour. Soon afterwards the cannonade seemed to gain redoubled vigour, and continued an hour without intermission, so that every house in the city was shaken. As, however, it at length ceased without removing to a greater distance, we naturally concluded that this last attack had proved unsuccessful. More than ten great conflagrations illumined the whole horizon amid the obscurity of night.
The excessive bustle in the city rendered it impossible for us to observe that the retreat had in fact commenced. The greatest part of the persons attached to the army had already left the city, while the others were making all the requisite preparations for their departure. Most of them had wonderfully changed the tone in which they had spoken the preceding day. They now talked of the miseries of war, deplored the sufferings of the people, and declared that peace would be the greatest of blessings for all parties. The multitude of French officers here was so great, that even those of high rank on the staff were obliged to put up with the most wretched accommodations, for which they paid handsomely, leaving their horses and equipages in the street, where the former frequently ran away. One of these officers sought a night's lodging in a mean house in the author's neighbourhood. He was called up at midnight, and informed that his column had just begun to retreat. He inquired whether the whole army was doing the same—the messenger replied that he did not know. This circumstance first confirmed my belief that the French had sustained a defeat, and rendered the conjecture that their whole army was retreating highly probable. Many French employes and soldiers had, several days before, while they yet had an opportunity, exchanged their uniform for the plainest attire, that, under this peaceful aegis, they might the more calmly await the issue of events; and that, in case the allies should come upon them too unexpectedly, they might, under the disguise of honest citizens, hasten away to their beloved Rhine without being challenged by the lances of the Cossacks. With greater composure than any of them did general Bertrand, the governor of the city, who, perhaps, as an intelligent officer, was the least confident of victory, look forward to the event. He abandoned not his post at the precipitate departure of the emperor, and was in consequence made prisoner the following day.
Such was the conclusion of the fifth day. It beheld a field of battle, of unparalleled extent, strewed with slain; and left one of the most flourishing districts of Saxony, as it were, one general conflagration. With anxious solicitude the people of Leipzig awaited its coming, and with expectations unfulfilled they witnessed its close. Though it appeared probable to us all, that, in this colossal engagement, victory had wholly forsaken the Gallic eagles, still the fate of our city was far from being decided. We were yet in the midst of the crater of the tremendous volcano, which by one mighty effort might hurl us into atoms, and leave behind scarcely a vestige of our existence. Napoleon had received a severe blow; and now it behoved him to oppose an immediate barrier to the impetuous course of the conquerors, and to prevent the total loss of his yet remaining army, artillery, and baggage. The only bulwark that he could employ for this purpose was Leipzig. All that art had formerly done to render it a defensive position had long since disappeared. Planks, hedges, and mud walls, were scarcely calculated to resist the butt-end of a musket. This deficiency it was every where necessary to supply by living walls, and that was in fact done in such a way as filled us all with consternation.
At day-break on the 19th the allies put the finishing hand to the great work. A considerable part of the French army, with an immense quantity of artillery, had already passed through and into the city with great precipitation. The troops that covered the retreat were furiously attacked, and driven on all sides into the city. Napoleon attempted to arrest the progress of victory by an expedient which had so often before produced an extraordinary effect, that is, by negotiation. A proposal was made to evacuate the city voluntarily, and to declare the Saxon troops there as neutral, on condition that the retreating army should have sufficient time allowed to withdraw from it with its artillery and waggon-train, and to reach a certain specified point. The allies too clearly perceived what an important advantage would in this case be gained by the French army, which was less anxious for the fate of the city than to effect its own escape. These terms were rejected, and several hundred pieces of artillery began to play upon Leipzig. Our fate would have been decided had the allied sovereigns cherished sentiments less generous and humane than they did. It behoved them to gain possession of Leipzig at any rate; and this object they might have accomplished in the shortest way, and with inconsiderable loss to themselves, if they had bombarded it for one single hour with shells, red-hot balls, and Congreve rockets, with which an English battery that accompanied them was provided. Their philanthropic spirits, on the contrary, revolted at the idea of involving the innocent population of a German city in the fate of Moscow and Saragossa. They resolved to storm the town, and to support the troops employed in this duty with artillery no farther than was necessary to silence the enemy, and to force their way through the palisaded avenues and gates. Meanwhile the discharges of artillery, quite close to us, were so tremendous, that each seemed sufficient to annihilate the city. The king of Saxony himself sent flags of truce, entreating that it might be spared. The allies replied that this should be done in as far as the defence of the enemy might render it practicable: they promised, moreover, security to persons and property after the place should be taken, and to enforce as rigid discipline as it was possible on such an occasion. To these assurances they annexed the condition that no French should be secreted in the city, declaring that every house in which one or more of them should be found would run the risk of being reduced to ashes. The cannon, though only in a proportionably small number from the north and east, immediately began to play. They were partly directed against the palisades at the gates, partly against the French artillery which defended the avenues. For more than two hours balls and shells from the east and north frequently fell in the city itself, and in the suburbs. Many a time I was filled with astonishment at the effects of one single ball, which often penetrated through two thick walls, and pursued its course still farther. Though they seldom fell in the streets, it was impossible to venture abroad without imminent hazard of life, as these tremendous visitors beat down large fragments of roofs, chimneys, and walls, which, tumbling with a frightful crash, threatened to bury every passenger beneath their ruins. Still greater havoc was made by the shells, which, bursting as soon as they had descended, immediately set their new habitations in flames. Fortunately for us, but few of these guests were sent into the city. The most that fell came from the north, that is, in the direction of Halle. Three times did fires break out in the Bruehl, which, in a short consumed several back buildings contiguous to the city wall, and nothing but the instantaneous measures adopted for their extinction prevented farther damage. The allies had no other object, in dispatching these ministers of destruction, than to shew the retreating enemy, who, in the general confusion and bustle, could no longer move either forward or backward, that, if they now forbore to annihilate him, it was because the innocent citizens might be involved in equal destruction with the fugitives. Pfaffendorf, a farm-house near the north side of the city, had previously been set on fire, when the Russian jaegers had penetrated thither through the Rosenthal, and was consumed to the very walls. As this place had been converted into an hospital, many poor fellows there fell a sacrifice to the flames.