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Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine

Book:        Life Of Napoleon

Author:      Tarbell, Ida

 

Chapter XVI.

 

Talleyrand's Treachery - The Campaign Of 1809 - Wagram

 

     Two unscrupulous and crafty men, both of singular ability, caused the

interior trouble which called Napoleon from Spain.  These men were

Talleyrand and Fouche.  The latter we saw during the Consulate as Minister

of Police.  Since, he had been once dismissed because of his knavery, and

restored, largely for the same quality.  His cunning was too valuable to

dispense with.  The former, Talleyrand, made Minister of Foreign Affairs

in 1799, had handled his negotiations with the extraordinary skill for

which he was famous, until, in 1807, Napoleon's mistrust of his duplicity,

and Talleyrand's own dislike for the details of his position, led to the

portfolio being taken from him, and he being made Vice-Grand-Elector.  He

evidently expected, in accepting this change, to remain as influential as

ever with Napoleon.  The knowledge that the emperor was dispensing with

his services made him resentful, and his devotion to the imperial cause

fluctuated according to the attention he received.

 

     Now, Napoleon's course in Spain had been undertaken at the advice of

Talleyrand, largely, and he had repeated constantly, in the early

negotiations, that France ought not to allow a Bourbon to remain enthroned

at her borders.  Yet, as the affair went on, he began slyly to talk

against the enterprise.  At Erfurt, where Napoleon had been impolitic

enough to take him, he initiated himself into Alexander's good graces, and

prevented Napoleon's policy towards Austria being carried out.  When

Napoleon returned to Spain, Talleyrand and Fouche, who up to this time had

been enemies, became friendly, and even appeared in public, arm in arm.

If Talleyrand and Fouche had made up, said the Parisians, there was

mischief brewing.

 

     Napoleon was not long in knowing of their reconciliation.  He learned

more, that the two crafty plotters had written Murat that in the event of

"something happening," that is, of Napoleon's death or overthrow, they

should organize a movement to call him to the head of affairs; that,

accordingly, he must hold himself ready.

 

     Napoleon returned to Paris immediately, removed Talleyrand from his

position at court, and, at a gathering of high officials, treated him to

one of those violent harangues with which he was accustomed to flay those

whom he would disgrace and dismiss.

 

     "You are a thief, a coward, a man without honor; you do not believe

in God; you have all your life been a traitor to your duties; you have

deceived and betrayed everybody; nothing is sacred to you; you would sell

your own father.  I have loaded you down with gifts, and there is nothing

you would not undertake against me.  For the past ten months you have been

shameless enough, because you supposed, rightly or wrongly, that my

affairs in Spain were going astray, to say to all who would listen to you

that you always blamed my undertakings there; whereas it was you yourself

who first put it into my head, and who persistently urged it.  And that

man, that unfortunate [he meant the Duc d'Enghien], by whom was I advised

of the place of his residence?  Who drove me to deal cruelly with him?

What, then, are you aiming at?  What do you wish for?  What do you hope?

Do you dare to say?  You deserve that I should smash you like a wine-

glass.  I can do it, but I despise you too much to take the trouble."

 

     All of this was undoubtedly true, but, after having publicly said it,

there was but one safe course for Napoleon - to put Talleyrand where he

could no longer continue his plotting.  He made the mistake, however, of

leaving him at large.

 

     The disturbance of the Continental peace came from Austria.

Encouraged by Napoleon's absence in Spain, and the withdrawal of troops

from Germany, and urged by England to attempt to again repair her losses,

Austria had hastily armed herself, hoping to be able to reach the Rhine

before Napoleon could collect his forces and meet her.  At this moment

Napoleon could command about the same number of troops as the Austrians,

but they were scattered in all directions, while the enemy's were already

consolidated.  The question became, then, whether he could get his troops

together before the Austrians attacked.  From every direction he hurried

them across France and Germany towards Ratisbonne.  On the 12th of April

he heard in Paris that the Austrians had crossed the Inn.  On the 17th the

emperor was in his headquarters at Donauworth, his army well in hand.

"Neither in ancient or modern times," says Jomini, "will one find anything

which equals in celerity and admirable precision the opening of this

campaign."

 

     In the next ten days a series of combats broke the Austrian army,

drove the Archduke Charles, with his main force, north of the Danube, and

opened the road to Vienna to the French.  On the 12th of May, one month

from the day he left Paris, Napoleon wrote from Schonbrunn, "We are

masters of Vienna." The city had been evacuated.

 

     Napoleon lay on the right bank of the Danube; the Austrian army under

the Archduke Charles was coming towards the city by the left bank; it was

to be a hand-to-hand struggle under the walls of Vienna.  The emperor was

uncertain of the archduke's plans, but he was determined that he should

not have a chance to reenforce his army.  The battle must be fought at

once, and he prepared to go across the river to attack him.  The place of

crossing he chose was south of Vienna, where the large island Lobau

divides the stream.  Bridges had to built for the passage, and it was with

the greatest difficulty that the work was accomplished, for the river was

high and the current swift, and anchors and boats were scarce.  Again and

again the boats broke apart.  Nevertheless, about thirty thousand of the

French got over, and took possession of the villages of Aspern and

Essling, where they were attacked on May 21st by some eighty thousand

Austrians.

 

     The battle which followed lasted all day, and the French sustained

themselves heroically.  That night reenforcements were gotten over, so

that the next day some fifty-five thousand men were on the French side.

Napoleon fought with the greatest obstinacy, hoping that another division

would soon succeed in getting over, and would enable him to overcome the

superior numbers of the Austrians.  Already the battle was becoming a

hand-to-hand fight, when the terrible news came that the bridge over the

Danube had gone down.  The Austrians had sent floating down the swollen

river great mills, fire-boats, and masses of timber fastened together in

such a way as to become battering-rams of frightful power when carried by

the rapid stream.  All hope of aid was gone, and, as the news spread, the

army resigned itself to perish sword in hand.  The carnage which followed

was horrible.  Towards evening one of the bravest of the French marshals,

Lannes, was fatally wounded.  It seemed as if fortune had determined on

the loss of the French, and Napoleon decided to retreat to the island of

Lobau, where he felt sure that he could maintain his position, and secure

supplies from the army on the right bank, until he had time to build

bridges and unite his forces.

 

     Communications were soon established with the right bank, but the

isle of Lobau was not deserted; it was used, in fact, as a camp for the

next few weeks, while Napoleon was sending to Italy, to France, and to

Germany, for new troops.  A heavy reenforcement came to him from Italy

with news which did much to encourage him.  When the war began, an

Austrian army had invaded Italy, and at first had success in its

engagements against the French under the Viceroy of Italy, Eugene de

Beauharnais.  The news of the ill-luck of the Austrians at home, and of

the march on Vienna, had discouraged the leader, Archduke John, brother of

Archduke Charles, and he had retreated, Eugene following.  Such were the

successes of the French on this retreat, that the Austrians finally

retired out of their way, leaving them a free route to Vienna, and Eugene

soon united his army to that of the emperor.

 

     With the greatest rapidity the French now secured and strengthened

their communications with Italy and with France, and gathered troops about

Vienna.  The whole month of June was passed in this way, hostile Europe

repeating the while that Napoleon was shut in by the Austrians and could

not move, and that he was idling his time in luxury at the castle of

Schonbrunn, where he had established his headquarters.  But this month of

apparent inactivity was only a feint.  By the 1st of July the French Army

had reached one hundred and fifty thousand men.  They were in admirable

condition, well drilled, fresh, and confident.  Their communications were

strong, their camps good, and they were eager for battle.

 

     The Austrians were encamped at Wagram, to the north of the Danube.

They had fortified the banks opposite the island of Lobau in a manner

which they believed would prevent the French from attempting a passage;

but in arranging their fortification they had completely neglected a

certain portion of the bank on which Napoleon seemed to have no designs.

But this was the point, naturally, which Napoleon chose for his passage,

and on the night of July 4th he effected it.  On the morning of the 5th

his whole army of one hundred and fifty thousand men, with four hundred

batteries, was on the left bank.  In the midst of a terrible storm this

great mass of men, with all its equipments, had crossed the main Danube,

several islands and channels, had built six bridges, and by daybreak had

arranged itself in order.  It was an unheard-of feat.

 

     Pushing his corps forward, and easily sweeping out of his way the

advance posts, Napoleon soon had his line facing that of the Austrians,

which stretched from near the Danube to a point east of Wagram.  At seven

o'clock on the evening of July 5th the French attacked the left and centre

of the enemy, but without driving them from their position.  The next

morning it was the Archduke Charles who took the offensive, making a

movement which changed the whole battle.  He attacked the French left,

which was nearest the river, with fifty thousand men, intending to get on

their line of communication and destroy the bridges across the Danube.

The troops on the French centre were obliged to hurry off to prevent this,

and the army was weakened for a moment, but not long.  Napoleon determined

to make the Archduke Charles, who in person commanded this attack on the

French left, return, not by following him, but by breaking his centre; and

he turned his heavy batteries against this portion of the army, and

followed them by a cavalry attack, which routed the enemy.  At the same

time their left was broken, and the troops which had been engaging it were

free to hurry off against the Austrian right, which was trying to reach

the bridges, and which were being held in check with difficulty at

Essling.  As soon as the archduke saw what had happened to his left and

centre he retired, preferring to preserve as much as possible of his army

in good order.  The French did not pursue.  The battle had cost them too

heavily.  But if the Austrians escaped from Wagram with their army, and if

their opponents gained little more than the name of a victory, they were

too discouraged to continue the war, and the emperor sued for peace.

 

     This peace was concluded in October.  Austria was forced to give up

Trieste and all her Adriatic possessions, to cede territory to Bavaria and

to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, and to give her consent to the continental

system.

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