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Napoleon's Russian Campaign

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Napoleon's Russian Campaign
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Author(s): Philippe Henri de Segur
Date Published: 10/2007
Page Count: 504
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-339-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-340-2

Philippe Henri de Segur was a French officer-an aide de camp-on Napoleon's staff-who served with the Grand Army throughout the Russian Campaign of 1812. This made him the ideal author for its history. He witnessed the early successes of the French and allied armies and the pyrrhic victory of Borodino. He accompanied Napoleon to the Kremlin and saw Moscow burning. By no means least, he was able to report the nightmare retreat through the snows of winter which brought about the destruction of an army and the beginning of the end of Napoleon and the golden epoch of the First Empire. Segur has created a memorable work-part history-part first hand account-which takes the reader vividly to the heart of these terrible events whilst clearly explaining their sequence. Originally published in two substantial volumes, Segur's entire work appears here--in a single comprehensive edition from Leonaur.

The Russians, recovering from their first surprise, rushed forward in all directions. Kutaisof and Yermoloff advanced at their head with a resolution worthy of so great an occasion. The 30th regiment, single against a whole army, ventured to attack it with the bayonet; it was enveloped, crushed, and driven out of the redoubt, where it left a third of its men, and its intrepid general pierced through with twenty wounds. Encouraged by their success, the Russians were no longer satisfied with defending themselves, but attacked in their turn. Then were seen united, on that single point, all the skill, strength, and fury, which war can bring forth. The French stood firm for four hours on the declivity of that volcano, under the shower of iron and lead which it vomited forth. But to do this required all the skill and determination of Prince Eugene; and the idea so insupportable to long-victorious soldiers, of confessing themselves vanquished.
Each division changed its general several times. The viceroy went from one to the other, mingling entreaties and reproaches, and, above all, reminding them of their former victories. He sent to apprise the emperor of his critical situation; but Napoleon replied, “That he could not assist him; that he must conquer; that he had only to make a greater effort; that the heat of the battle was there.” The prince was rallying all his forces to make a general assault, when suddenly his attention was diverted by furious cries proceeding from his left.
Ouwarof, with two regiments of cavalry, and some thousand Cossacks, had attacked his reserve, and thrown it into disorder. He ran thither instantly, and, seconded by Generals Delzons and Ornano, soon drove away that troop, which was more noisy than formidable; after which he returned to put himself at the head of a decisive attack.
It was about that time that Murat, forced to remain inactive on the plain where he commanded, had sent, for the fourth time, to his brother-in-law, to complain of the losses which his cavalry were sustaining from the Russian troops, protected by the redoubts which were opposed to Prince Eugene. “He only requested the cavalry of the guard, with whose assistance he could turn the entrenched heights, and destroy them along with the army which defended them.”
The emperor seemed to give his consent, and sent in search of Bessières, who commanded these horse-guards. Unfortunately they could not find the marshal, who, by his orders, had gone to look at the battle somewhat nearer. The emperor waited nearly an hour without the least impatience, or repeating his order; and when the marshal returned, he received him with a pleasant look, heard his report quietly, and allowed him to advance as far as he might judge it desirable.
But it was too late; he could no longer think of making the whole Russian army prisoners, or perhaps of taking entire possession of Russia; the field of battle was all he was likely to gain. He had allowed Kutusoff leisure to reconnoitre his positions; that general had fortified all the points of difficult approach which remained to him, and his cavalry covered the plain.
The Russians had thus, for the third time, renewed their left wing, in the face of Ney and Murat. The latter summoned the cavalry of Montbrun, who had been killed. General Caulaincourt succeeded him; he found the aides-de-camp of the unfortunate Montbrun in tears for the loss of their commander. “Follow me,” said he to them, “weep not for him, but come and avenge his death!”
The king pointed out to him the enemy’s fresh wing; he must break through it, and push on as far as the breast of their great battery; when there, during the time that the light cavalry is following up his advantage, he, Caulaincourt, must turn suddenly, on the left with his cuirassiers, in order to take in the rear that terrible redoubt whose front fire is still mowing the ranks of the viceroy.
Caulaincourt’s reply was, “You shall see me there presently, alive or dead.” He immediately set off, overthrew all before him, and turning suddenly round on the left with his cuirassiers, was the first to enter the bloody redoubt, when he was struck dead by a musket-ball. His conquest was his tomb.