« PredošláPokračovať »
MAURICE TIERNAY, THE SOLDIER OF FORTUNE.
"THE ARMY SIXTY YEARS SINCE."
I FOLLOWED the soldiers as they marched beyond the outer boulevard, and gained the open country. Many of the idlers dropped off here; others accompanied us a little further; but at length, when the drums ceased to beat, and were slung in marching order on the backs of the drummers, when the men broke into the open order that French soldiers instinctively assume on a march, the curiosity of the gazers appeared to have nothing more to feed upon, and one by one they returned to the capital, leaving me the only lingerer.
To any one accustomed to military display, there was little to attract notice in the column, which consisted of detachments from various corps, horse, foot, and artillery; some were returning to their regiments after a furlough; some had just issued from the hospitals, and were seated in charettes, or countrycars; and others, again, were peasant boys only a few days before drawn in the conscription. There was every variety of uniform, and, I may add, of raggedness, too-a coarse blouse and a pair of worn shoes, with a red or blue handkerchief on the head, being the dress of many among them. The Republic was not rich in those days, and cared little for the costume in which her victories were won. The artillery alone seemed to preserve anything like uniformity in dress. They wore a plain uniform of blue, with long white gaiters coming half way up the thigh; a low cocked hat, without feather, but with the tricoloured cockade in front. They were mostly men middle-aged, or past the prime of life, bronzed, weather-beaten, hardy-looking fellows, whose white moustaches contrasted well with their sun-burned faces. their weapons and equipments were of a superior kind, and showed the care bestowed upon an arm whose efficiency was the first discovery of the republican generals. The greater number of these were Bretons, and several of them had served in the fleet, still bearing in their looks and carriage some
thing of that air which seems inherent in the seaman. They were grave, serious, and almost stern in manner, and very unlike the young cavalry soldiers, who, mostly recruited from the south of France, many of them Gascons, had all the high-hearted gaiety and reckless levity of their own peculiar land. A campaign to these fellows seemed a pleasant excursion; they made a jest of everything, from the wan faces of the invalids, to the black bread of the "Commissary;" they quizzed the new "Tourleroux," as the recruits were styled, and the old "Grumblers," as it was the fashion to call the veterans of the army; they passed their jokes on the Republic, and even their own officers came in for a share of their ridicule. The Grenadiers, however, were those who especially were made the subject of their sarcasm. They were generally from the north of France, and the frontier country toward Flanders, whence they probably imbibed a portion of that phlegm and moroseness so very unlike the general gaiety of French nature; and when assailed by such adversaries, were perfectly incapable of reply or retaliation.
They all belonged to the army of the "Sambre et Meuse," which, although at the beginning of the campaign highly distinguished for its successes, had been latterly eclipsed by the extraordinary victories on the Upper Rhine and in Western Germany; and it was curious to hear with what intelligence and interest the greatest questions of strategy were discussed by those who carried their packs as common soldiers in the ranks. Movements and manoeuvres were criticised, attacked, defended, ridiculed, and condemned, with a degree of acuteness and knowledge that showed the enormous progress the nation had made in military science, and with what ease the Republic could recruit her officers from the ranks of her armies.
At noon the column halted in the wood of Belleville; and while the men were resting, an express arrived an
nouncing that a fresh body of troops would soon arrive, and ordering the others to delay their march till they came up. The orderly who brought the tidings could only say that he believed some hurried news had come from Germany, for before he left Paris the rappel was beating in different quarters, and the rumour ran that reinforcements were to set out for Strasbourg with the utmost despatch.
And what troops are coming to join us?" said an old artillery sergeant, in evident disbelief of the tidings.
"Two batteries of artillery and the voltigeurs of the 4th, I know for certain are coming," said the orderly, "and they spoke of a battalion of grenadiers."
"What do these Germans need another lesson," said the cannonier, "I thought Fleurus has taught them what our troops were made of?”
How you talk of Fleurus," interrupted a young hussar of the south; "I have just come from the army of Italy, and, ma foi! we should never have mentioned such a battle as Fleurus in a despatch. Campaigning amongst dykes and hedges-fighting, with a river on one flank and a fortress on t'other-parade manœuvres—where, at the first check, the enemy retreats, and leaves you free, for the whole afternoon, to write off your successes to the Directory. Had you seen our fellows scaling the Alps, with avalanches of snow descending at every fire of the great guns-forcing pass after pass against an enemy, posted on every cliff and crag above us-cutting our way to victory by roads the hardiest hunter had seldom trod; I call that war.'
"And I call it the skirmish of an outpost!" said the gruff veteran, as he smoked away, in thorough contempt for the enthusiasm of the other. have served under Kleber, Hoche, and Moreau, and I believe they are the first generals of France."
"There is a name greater than them all," cried the hussar, with eagerness. "Let us hear it, then-you mean Pichegru, perhaps, or Massena ?"
"No, I mean Bonaparte!" said the hussar, triumphantly.
"A good officer, and one of us," said the artilleryman, touching his belt to intimate the arm of the service the general belonged to. "He commanded the siege-train at Toulon."
"He belongs to all," said the other.
"He is a dragoon, a voltigeur, an artillerist, a pontonièr what you will-he knows everything, as I know my horse's saddle, and cloak-bag.”
Both parties now grew warm; and as each was not only an eager partisan, but well acquainted with the leading events of the two campaigns they undertook to defend, the dispute attracted a large circle of listeners, who, either seated on the greensward, or lying at full length, formed a picturesque group under the shadow of the spreading oak trees. Meanwhile, the cooking went speedily forward, and the camp-kettles smoked with a steam whose savoury odour was not a little tantalising to one who, like myself, felt that he did not belong to the company.
"What's thy mess, boy?" said an old grenadier to me, as I sat at a little distance off, and affecting-but I fear very ill-a total indifference to what went forward.
"He is asking to what corps thou belong'st?" said another, seeing that the question puzzled me.
Unfortunately I have none," said I. "I merely followed the march for curiosity."
"And thy father and mother, child-what will they say to thee on thy return home?"
"I have neither father, mother, nor home," said I, promptly.
"Just like myself," said an old redwhiskered sapeur; 66 or if I ever had parents, they never had the grace to own me. Come over here, child, and take share of my dinner."
"No, parbleu! I'll have him for my comrade," cried the young hussar. "I was made a corporal yesterday, and have a larger ration. Sit here, my boy, and tell us how art called."
"Maurice will do; few of us care for more than one name, except in the dead muster they like to have it in full. Help thyself, my lad, and here's the wine-flask beside thee."
"How comes it thou hast this old uniform, boy," said he, pointing to my sleeve.
"It was one they gave me in the Temple," said I. "I was a rat du prison' for some time."
"Thunder of war!" exclaimed the cannonier, "I had rather stand a whole platoon fire than see what thou must have seen, child.”
Sacre bleu!" cried a little fellow, whose age might have been anything from boyhood to manhood-for while small of stature, he was shrivelled and wrinkled like a mummy-" why not be satisfied with the coat he wears?"
"And be a drummer, like thee," said the cannonier.
"Just so, like me, and like Massena-he was a drummer, too."
"No, no!" cried a dozen voices together, "that's not true."
"He's right; Massena was a drummer in the Eighth," said the cannonier; "I remember him when he was like that boy yonder."
"To be sure," said the little fellow, who, I now perceived, wore the dress of a "tambour;" "and is it a disgrace to be the first to face the enemy?"
"And the first to turn his back to him, comrade," cried another.
"Not always-not always" said the little fellow, regardless of the laugh against him. "Had it been so, I had not gained the battle of Grandrengs on the Sambre."
“Thou gain a battle!" shouted halfa-dozen, in derisive laughter.
"I can believe it well," replied Pièrre; "many a man's merits go unacknowledged and Kleber got all the credit that belonged to Pièrre Canot."
"Let us hear about it Pièrre, for even thy victory is unknown by name to us, poor devils of the army of Italy. How call'st thou the place?"
"Grandrengs," said Pièrre, proudly. "It's a name will live as long, perhaps, as many of those high-sounding ones you have favoured us with. Mayhap, thou hast heard of Cambray?"
"Never!" said the hussar, shaking
"Nor of Mons,' either, I'll be sworn?" continued Pièrre.
'Quite true, I never heard of it before."
"Voila!" exclaimed Pièrre, in contemptuous triumph. "And these are the fellows pretend to feel their country's glory, and take pride in her conquests. Where hast thou been, lad, not to hear of places that every child syllables now-a-days?"
"I will tell you. where I've been," said the hussar, haughtily, and dropping at the same time the familiar "thee and "thou" of soldier intercourse"I've been at Montenotte, at Millesimo, at Mondove
Allons, done! with your disputes," broke in an old grenadier; 66 as if France was not victorious whether the enemies were English or German. Let us hear how Pièrre won his battle at-at
"At Grandrengs," said Pièrre. "They call it in the despatch the ' action of the Sambre,' because Kleber came up there-and Kleber being a great man, and Pièrre Canot a little one, you understand, the glory attaches to the place where the bullion epaulettes are found-just as the old King of Prussia used to say, 'Dieu est toujours a cotè de gros bataillons.'
"I see we'll never come to this same victory of Grandrengs, with all these turnings and twistings," muttered the artillery sergeant.
"Thou art very near it now, comrade, if thou'lt listen," said Pièrre, as he wiped his mouth after a long draught of the wine-flask. "I'll not weary the honourable company with any description of the battle generally, but just confine myself to that part of it, in which I was myself in action. It is well known, that though we claimed the victory of the 10th May, we did little more than keep our own, and were obliged to cross the Sambre, and be satisfied with such a position as enabled us to hold the two bridges over the river-and there we remained for four days some said preparing for a fresh attack upon Kaunitz, who commanded the allies; some, and I believe they were right, alleging that our generals were squabbling all day, and all night, too, with two Commissaries that the Government had sent down to teach us how to win battles. Ma foi! we had had some experience in that way ourselves, without learning the art from two citizens with tricoloured scarfs round their waists, and
yellow tops to their boots! However that might be, early on the morning of the 20th we received orders to cross the river in two strong columns, and form on the opposite side; at the same time that a division was to pass the stream by boat two miles higher up, and, concealing themselves in a pine wood, be ready to take the enemy in flank, when they believed that all the force was in the front."
"Sacre tonnerre! I believe that our armies of the Sambre and the Rhine never have any other notion of battles than that eternal flank movement !" cried a young sergeant of the Voltigeurs, who had just come up from the army of Italy. "Our general used to split the enemy by the centre, cut him piecemeal by attack in columns, and then head him down with artillery at short range-not leaving him time for a retreat in heavy masses.
Silence, silence, and let us hear Petit Pièrre," shouted a dozen voices, who cared far more for an incident, than a scientific discussion about mancu
"The plan I speak of was General Moreau's," continued Pièrre; "and I fancy that your Bonaparte has something to learn ere he be his equal !”
This rebuke seeming to have engaged the suffrages of the company, he went on: "The boat division consisted of four battalions of infantry, two batteries of light-artillery, and a voltigeur company of the Regiment de Marboeuf-to which I was then, for the time, attached as Tambour en chef.' What fellows they were-the greatest devils in the whole army! They came from the Faubourg St. Antoine, and were as reckless and undisciplined as when they strutted the streets of Paris. When they were thrown out to skirmish, they used to play as many tricks as school-boys: sometimes they'd run up to the roof of a cabin or a hut-and they could climb like cats-and, sitting down on the chimney, begin firing away at the enemy, as coolly as if from a battery; sometimes they'd capture half-a-dozen asses, and ride forward as if to charge, and then, affecting to tumble off, the fellows would pick down any of the enemy's officers that were fools enough to come near-scampering back to the cover of the line, laughing and joking as if the whole were sport. I saw one-when his wrist was shattered by
a shot, and he couldn't fire-take a comrade on his back and caper away like a horse, just to tempt the Germans to come out of their lines. It was with these blessed youths I was now to serve, for the Tambour of the Marboeuf was drowned in crossing the Sambre a few days before.Well we passed the river safely, and, unperceived by the enemy, gained the pine wood, where we formed in two columns, one of attack, and the other of support—the voltigeurs about five hundred paces in advance of the leading files. The morning was dull and hazy, for a heavy rain had fallen during the night; and the country is flat, and so much intersected with drains, and dykes, and ditches, that, after rain, the vapour is too thick to see twenty yards on any side. Our business was to make a counter-march to the right, and, guided by the noise of the cannonade, to come down upon the enemy's flank in the thickest of the engagement. As we advanced, we found ourselves in a kind of marshy plain, planted with willows, and so thick, that it was often difficult for three men to march abreast. This extended for a considerable distance; and, on escaping from it, we saw that we were not above a mile from the enemy's left, which rested on a little village."
"I know it well," broke in the cannonier; "it's called Huyningen."
"Just so. There was a formidable battery in position there; and part of the place was stockaded, as if they expected an attack. Still, there were no videttes, nor any look-out party, so far as we could see; and our commanding officer did'nt well know what to make of it, whether it was a point of concealed strength, or a position they were about to withdraw from. At all events, it required caution; and, although the battle had already begun on the right—as a loud cannonade, and a heavy smoke told us-he halted the brigade in the wood, and held a council of his officers to see what was to be done. The resolution come to was, that the voltigeurs should advance alone to explore the way, the rest of the force remaining in ambush. We were to go out in sections of companies, and spreading over a wide surface, see what we could of the place.
Scarcely was the order given, when away we went and it was now a race
who should be earliest up and exchange first shot with the enemy. dashed forward over the open field in front; others skulked along by dykes and ditches; some, again, dodged here and there, as cover offered its shelter: but about a dozen, of whom I was one, kept the track of a little cart-road, which, half-concealed by high banks and furze, ran in a zig-zag line towards the village. I was always smart of foot; and now, having newly joined the "voltigeurs," was naturally eager to show myself not unworthy of my new associates. I went on at my best pace; and being lightly equipped-neither musket nor ballcartridge to carry-I soon outstripped them all; and, after about twenty minutes' brisk running, saw in front of me a long, low farm-house, the walls all pierced for musketry, and two small eight-pounders in battery at the gate. I looked back for my companions, but they were not up—not a man of them to be seen. No matter,' thought I, 'they'll be here soon; meanwhile I'll make for that little copse of brush-wood;" for a small clump of low furze and broom was standing at a little distance in front of the farm. All this time, I ought to say, not a man of the enemy was to be seen, although I, from where I stood, could see the crenelated walls, and the guns, as they were pointed—at a distance all would seem like an ordinary peasant house.
"As I crossed the open space to gain the copse, piff! came a bullet, whizzing past me; and just as I reached the cover, piff! came another. ducked my head and made for the thicket; but just as I did so, my foot caught in a branch. I stumbled and pitched forward; and trying to save myself, I grasped a bow above me. It smashed suddenly, and down I went. Ay! down sure enough--for I went right through the furze, and into a wellone of those old, walled wells, they have in these countries, with a huge bucket that fills up the whole space, and is worked by a chain. Luckily the bucket was linked up near the top, and caught me, or I should have gone where there would have been no more heard of Pierre Canot; as it was, I was sorely bruised by the fall, and did'nt recover myself for full ten minutes after. Then I discovered that I was sitting in a large wooden
trough, hooped with iron, and supported by two heavy chains that passed over a windlass, about ten feet above my head.
"I was safe enough for the matter of that; at least none were likely to discover me, as I could easily see by the rust of the chain and the grass-grown edges, that the well had been long disused. Now the position was far from being pleasant. There stood the farmhouse, full of soldiers, the muskets ranging ranging over every approach to where I lay. Of my comrades, there was nothing to be seen, they had either missed the way or retreated; and so time crept on, and I pondered on what might be going forward elsewhere, and whether it would ever be my own fortune to see my comrades again.
"It might be an hour-it seemed three or four to me-after this, as I looked over the plain, I saw the caps of our infantry just issuing over the brushwood, and a glancing lustre of their bayonets, as the sun tipped them. They were advancing, but as it seemed, slowly-halting at times, and then moving forward again-just like a force waiting for others to come up. At last they debouched into the plain; but, to my surprise, they wheeled about to the right, leaving the farm-house on their flank, as if to march beyond it. This was to lose their way totally; nothing would be easier than to carry the position of the farm, for the Germans were evidently few, had no videttes, and thought themselves in perfect security. I crept out from my ambush, and holding my cap on a stick tried to attract notice from our fellows, but none saw me. I ventured at last to shout aloud, but with no better success; so that, driven to the end of my resources, I set to and beat a 'roulade' on the drum, thundering away with all my might, and not caring what might come of it-for I was half mad with vexation as well as despair. They heard me now; I saw a staff officer gallop up to the head of the leading division and halt them; volley came peppering from behind me, but without doing me any injury, for I was safe once more in my bucket. Then came another pause, and again I repeated my manœuvre, and to my delight perceived that our fellows were advancing at quick march. I beat harder, and the drums of the grenadiers answered me. All right now, thought