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قراءة كتاب Napoleon Bonaparte

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‏اللغة: English
Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 8

retreat, exclaiming, "My friends, we have retreated far enough. It is now our turn to advance. Recollect that I am in the habit of sleeping on the field of battle." The fugitives, reanimated by the arrival of the reserve, immediately rallied in their rear. The double charge in front and flank was instantly made. The Austrians were checked and staggered. A perfect tornado of bullets from Desaix's division swept their ranks. They poured an answering volley into the bosoms of the French. A bullet pierced the breast of Desaix, and he fell and almost immediately expired. His last words were, "Tell the First Consul that my only regret in dying is, to have perished before having done enough to live in the recollection of posterity." The soldiers, who devotedly loved him, saw his fall, and rushed more madly on to avenge his death. The swollen tide of uproar, confusion, and dismay now turned, and rolled in surging billows in the opposite direction. Hardly one moment elapsed before the Austrians, flushed with victory, found themselves overwhelmed by defeat. In the midst of this terrific scene, an aid rode up to Napoleon and said, "Desaix is dead." But a moment before they were conversing side by side. Napoleon pressed his forehead convulsively with his hand, and exclaimed, mournfully, "Why is it not permitted me to weep! Victory at such a price is dear."

The French now made the welkin ring with shouts of victory. Indescribable dismay filled the Austrian ranks as wildly they rushed before their unrelenting pursuers. Their rout was utter and hopeless. When the sun went down over this field of blood, after twelve hours of the most frightful carnage, a scene was presented horrid enough to appall the heart of a demon. More than twenty thousand human bodies were strewn upon the ground, the dying and the dead, weltering in gore, and in every conceivable form of disfiguration. Horses, with limbs torn their bodies, were struggling in convulsive agonies. Fragments of guns and swords, and of military wagons of every kind were strewed around in wild ruin. Frequent piercing cries, which agony extorted from the lacerated victims of war, rose above the general moanings of anguish, which, like wailings of the storm, fell heavily upon the ear. The shades of night were now descending upon this awful scene of misery. The multitude of the wounded was so great, that notwithstanding the utmost exertions of the surgeons, hour after hour of the long night lingered away, while thousands of the wounded and the dying bit the dust in their agony.

If war has its chivalry and its pageantry, it has also revolting hideousness and demoniac woe. The young, the noble, the sanguine were writhing there in agony. Bullets respect not beauty. They tear out the eye, and shatter the jaw, and rend the cheek, and transform the human face divine into an aspect upon which one can not gaze but with horror. From the field of Marengo many a young man returned to his home so multilated as no longer to be recognized by friends, and passed a weary life in repulsive deformity. Mercy abandons the arena of battle. The frantic war-horse with iron hoof tramples upon the mangled face, the throbbing and inflamed wounds the splintered bones, and heeds not the shriek of torture. Crushed into the bloody mire by the ponderous wheels of heavy artillery, the victim of barbaric war thinks of mother, and father, and sister, and home, and shrieks, and moans, and dies; his body is stripped by the vagabonds who follow the camp; his naked mangled corpse is covered with a few shovels-full of earth, and left as food for vultures and for dogs and he is forgotten forever—and it is called glory . He who loves war, for the sake of its excitements, its pageantry, and its fancied glory, is the most eminent of all the dupes of folly and of sin. He who loathes war, with inexpressible loathing, who will do everything in his power to avert the dire and horrible calamity, but who will, nevertheless, in the last extremity, with a determined spirit, encounter all its perils, from love of country and of home, who is willing to sacrifice himself and all that is dear to him in life, to promote the well being of his fellow-man, will ever receive the homage of the world, and we also fully believe that he will receive the approval of God. Washington abhorred war in all its forms, yet he braved all its perils.

For the carnage of the field of Marengo, Napoleon can not be held responsible. Upon England and Austria must rest all the guilt of that awful tragedy. Napoleon had done every thing he could do to stop the effusion of blood. He had sacrificed the instincts of pride, in pleading with a haughty foe for peace. His plea was unavailing. Three hundred thousand men were marching upon France to force upon her a detested King. It was not the duty of France to submit to such dictation. Drawing the sword in self-defense, Napoleon fought and conquered. "Te Deum Laudamus."

It is not possible but that Napoleon must have been elated by so resplendent a victory. He knew that Marengo would be classed as the most brilliant of his achievements. The blow had fallen with such terrible severity that the haughty allies were thoroughly humbled. Melas was now at his mercy. Napoleon could dictate peace upon his own terms. Yet he rode over the field of his victory with a saddened spirit, and gazed mournfully upon the ruin and the wretchedness around him. As he was slowly and thoughtfully passing along, through the heaps of the dead with which the ground was encumbered, he met a number of carts, heavily laden with the wounded, torn by balls, and bullets, and fragments of shells, into most hideous spectacles of deformity. As the heavy wheels lumbered over the rough ground, grating the splintered bones, and bruising and opening afresh the inflamed wounds, shrieks of torture were extorted from the victims. Napoleon stopped his horse and uncovered his head, as the melancholy procession of misfortune and woe passed along. Turning to a companion, he said, "We can not but regret not being wounded like these unhappy men, that we might share their sufferings." A more touching expression of sympathy never has been recorded. He who says that this was hypocrisy is a stranger to the generous impulses of a noble heart. This instinctive outburst of emotion never could have been instigated by policy.

Napoleon had fearlessly exposed himself to every peril during this conflict. His clothes were repeatedly pierced by bullets. Balls struck between the legs of his horse, covering him with earth. A cannon-ball took away a piece of the boot from his left leg and a portion of the skin, leaving a scar which was never obliterated.

Before Napoleon Marched for Italy, he had made every effort in his power for the attainment of peace. Now, with magnanimity above all praise, without waiting for the first advance from his conquered foes, he wrote again imploring peace. Upon the field of Marengo, having scattered all his enemies like chaff before him, with the smoke of the conflict still darkening the air, and the groans of the dying swelling upon his ears, laying aside all the formalities of state, with heartfelt feeling and earnestness he wrote to the Emperor of Austria. This extraordinary epistle was thus commenced:

"Sire! It is on the field of battle, amid the sufferings of a multitude of wounded, and surrounded by fifteen thousand corpses, that I beseech your majesty to listen to the voice of humanity, and not to suffer two brave nations to cut each others' throats for interests not their own. It is my part to press this upon your majesty, being upon the very theatre of war. Your majesty's heart can not feel it so keenly as does mine."

The letter was long and most eloquent. "For what are you fighting?" said Napoleon. "For religion? Then make war on the Russians and the English who are the enemies of your faith. Do you wish to guard against revolutionary principles? It is this very war which has extended them over half