Page images

while the bread was yet in the oven, the Jew would not promise to supply me, unless I gave him a louis in advance. I consented, but when I came back the sentinel was changed, and I was cruelly repulsed from the door. Ah sir," continued he, "I am indeed, unfortunate; I have lost all the money that I had in the world, and am unable to procure a morsel of bread, though I have not tasted any for more than a month."

Passage of the Beresina.

ARRIVED on the banks of the Beresina, what a frightful picture did this multitude of men present, overwhelmed with misfortunes of every kind, and hemmed in by a morass; that very multitude which, two months before, had exultingly spread itself over half the surface of a vast empire! Our soldiers pale, emaciated, dying with hunger and cold, having nothing to defend them from the inclemency of the season but tattered pelisses and sheep-skins half burnt, and uttering the most mournful lamentations, crowded the banks of this unfortunate river. Germans, Polanders, Italians, Spaniards, Croats, Por

tuguese, and French, were all mingled together, disputing and quarrelling with each other in their different languages :-finally, the officers and even the generals, wrapped in pelisses covered with dirt and filth, mingling with the soldiers, and abusing those who pressed upon them, or braved their authority, formed a scene of strange confusion of which no painter could trace the faintest resemblance.

They, whom fatigue or ignorance of the impending danger rendered less eager to cross the river, were endeavouring to kindle a fire and repose their wearied limbs. We had too frequently occasion to observe, in these encampments, to what a degree of brutality excess of misery would debase human nature. In one place we saw several of the soldiers fighting for a morsel of bread. If a stranger, pierced with the cold, endeavoured to approach a fire, those to whom it belonged inhumanly drove him away; or if tormented with raging thirst, any one asked for a single drop of water from another who carried a full supply, the refusal was accompanied by the vilest abuse. We often heard those who had once been friends, and whose education had been liberal, bitterly disputing with each other for a little straw, or a piece of horse flesh, which they were attempting to divide. This campaign was therefore the more terrible, as it brutalized the character, and stained us with vices to which we had before been strangers.Even those who once were honest, humane, and

generous, became selfish, avaricious, dishonest, and eruel.

Although there were two bridges, one for the carriages and the other for the foot-soldiers, yet the crowd was so great, and the approaches so dangerous, that the way was completely obstructed near the Beresina, and it was absolutely impossible to move. About eight o'clock in the morning the bridge for the carriages and the cavalry broke down; the baggage and artillery then advanced towards the other bridge, and attempted to force a passage. Now began a dreadful contention between the foot soldiers and the horsemen. Many perished by the hands of their comrades, a great number were suffocated at the head of the bridge; and the dead bodies of men and horses-so choked every avenue, that it was necessary to climb over mountains of carcasses to arrive at the river. Some, who were buried in these horrible heaps, still breathed, and struggling with the agonies of death, caught hold of those who mounted over them; but these inhumanly kicked them with violence to disengage themselves, and remorselessly trod them under foot. During this contention, the multitude which followed, like a furious wave, swept away, while it increased the number of victims.

The Duke of Belluno (Victor), remaining on the eft bank, took a position on the heights of Weselewo, with the two divisions of Girard and Daendels, to cover the passage, and, amidst the frightful confusion

which prevailed, to defend it against the corps of Wittgenstein, whose advanced troops had appeared in the evening. In the meantime, General Parthonneaux, after having repulsed the attacks of Platow and Tschikagow, left Borisscov at three o'clock in the afternoon, with the third brigade to oppose the Russians, who advanced in columns.

In the heat of the engagement many balls flew over the miserable crowd which was yet pressing across the bridge of the Beresina. Some shells burst in the midst of them. Terror and despair then took possession of every heart. The women and children, who had escaped so many disasters, seemed to have been preserved only to suffer here a death still more deplorable. We saw them rushing from the baggagewaggons, and falling in agonies and tears at the feet of the first soldier they met, imploring his assistance to enable them to reach the other side. The sick and the wounded, sitting on the trunks of trees, or supported by their crutches, anxiously looking around for some friend to help them. But their cries were lost in the air. No one had leisure to attend to his dearest friend. His own preservation absorbed every thought.

Monsieur de Labarrie, the muster-master of the fourth corps, was a man of respectable character and engaging manners. His advanced age, and more especially his feeble constitution, had long rendered him unable to march, and he was now lying with

many others on an open sledge. He accidentally perceived an officer of his acquaintance, and although he was scarcely able to stand, he ran to him, threw himself into his arms, and implored his protection. The officer was severely wounded, but, too generous to refuse his feeble help, he promised that he would not leave him. These two friends, closely embracing each other, slowly proceeded towards the bridge, animated by the consoling thought, that at least they would be permitted to die together. They entered the crowd; but feeble and helpless, they were unable to sustain the intolerable pressure, and were seen

no more.


A woman was likewise marching with the equipage of Napoleon, whom her husband had left a little way behind, while he went forward to endeavour to find a place where they might safely pass. During that time a shell burst near the unfortunate female. crowd that was around her immediately took to flight. She alone remained. But the enemy soon advancing, caused the troops to retreat suddenly towards the bridge; and in their confused march, they hurried the poor woman with them, who strove in vain to return to the place where her husband had left her. Buffeted by the tumultuous waves, she saw herself driven from the spot without the possibility of return. We heard her from afar, loudly calling to her husband, but her piercing voice was unattended to, amidst the noise of arms, and the cries of the com

« PreviousContinue »