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"Thou first and last of fields, king-making victory."--BYRON.
England has now been blest with thirty-seven years of peace. At no other period of her history can a similarly long cessation from a state of warfare be found. It is true that our troops have had battles to fight during this interval for the protection and extension of our Indian possessions and our colonies; but these have been with distant and unimportant enemies. The danger has never been brought near our own shores, and no matter of vital importance to our empire has ever been at stake. We have not had hostilities with either France, America, or Russia; and when not at war with any of our peers, we feel ourselves to be substantially at peace. There has, indeed, throughout this long period, been no great war, like those with which the previous history of modern Europe abounds. There have been formidable collisions between particular states; and there have been still more formidable collisions between the armed champions of the conflicting principles of absolutism and democracy; but there has been no general war, like those of the French Revolution, like the American, or the Seven Years' War, or like the War of the Spanish Succession. It would be far too much to augur from this, that no similar wars will again convulse the world; but the value of the period of peace which Europe has gained, is incalculable; even if we look on it as only a truce, and expect again to see the nations of the earth recur to what some philosophers have termed man's natural state of warfare.
No equal number of years can be found, during which science, commerce, and civilization have advanced so rapidly and so extensively, as has been the case since 1815. When we trace their progress, especially in this country, it is impossible not to feel that their wondrous development has been mainly due to the land having been at peace. [See the excellent Introduction to Mr. Charles Knight's "History of the Thirty Years' Peace."] Their good effects cannot be obliterated, even if a series of wars were to recommence. When we reflect on this, and contrast these thirty-seven years with the period that preceded them, a period of violence, of tumult, of unrestingly destructive energy,--a period throughout which the wealth of nations was scattered like sand, and the blood of nations lavished like water,--it is impossible not to look with deep interest on the final crisis of that dark and dreadful epoch; the crisis out of which our own happier cycle of years has been evolved. The great battle which ended the twenty-three years' war of the first French Revolution, and which quelled the man whose genius and ambition had so long disturbed and desolated the world, deserves to be regarded by us, not only with peculiar pride, as one of our greatest national victories, but with peculiar gratitude for the repose which it secured for us, and for the greater part of the human race.
One good test for determining the importance of Waterloo, is to ascertain what was felt by wise and prudent statesmen before that battle, respecting the return of Napoleon from Elba to the Imperial throne of France, and the probable effects of his success. For this purpose, I will quote the words, not of any of our vehement anti-Gallican politicians of the school of Pitt, but of a leader of our Liberal party, of a man whose reputation as a jurist, a historian and a far-sighted and candid statesman, was, and is, deservedly high, not only in this country, but throughout Europe. Sir James Mackintosh, in the debate in the British House of Commons, on the 20th April, 1815, spoke thus of the return from Elba:--
"Was it in the power of language to describe the evil. Wars which had raged for more than twenty years throughout Europe; which had spread blood and desolation from Cadiz to Moscow, and from Naples to Copenhagen; which had wasted the means of human enjoyment, and destroyed the instruments of social improvement; which threatened to diffuse among the European nations, the dissolute and ferocious habits of a predatory soldiery,--at length, by one of those vicissitudes which bid defiance to the foresight of man, had been brought to a close, upon the whole, happy beyond all reasonable expectation, with no violent shock to national independence, with some tolerable compromise between the opinions of the age and reverence due to ancient institutions; with no too signal or mortifying triumph over the legitimate interests or avowable feelings of any numerous body of men, and, above all, without those retaliations against nations or parties, which beget new convulsions, often as horrible as those which they close, and perpetuate revenge and hatred and bloodshed, from age to age. Europe seemed to breathe after her sufferings. In the midst of this fair prospect, and of these consolatory hopes, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba; three small vessels reached the coast of Provence; our hopes are instantly dispelled; the work of our toil and fortitude is undone; the blood of Europe is spilt in vain--
"'Ibi omnis effusus labor!'"
The Congress of Emperors, Kings, Princes, Generals, and Statesmen, who had assembled at Vienna to remodel the world after the overthrow of the mighty conqueror, and who thought that Napoleon had passed away for ever from the great drama of European politics, had not yet completed their triumphant festivities, and their diplomatic toils, when Talleyrand, on the 11th of March, 1815, rose up among them, and announced that the ex-emperor had escaped from Elba, and was Emperor of France once more. It is recorded by Sir Walter Scott, as a curious physiological fact, that the first effect of the news of an event which threatened to neutralise all their labours, was to excite a loud burst of laughter from nearly every member of the Congress. [Life of Napoleon, vol. viii. chap. 1.] But the jest was a bitter one: and they soon were deeply busied in anxious deliberations respecting the mode in which they should encounter their arch-enemy, who had thus started from torpor and obscurity into renovated splendour and strength:
"Qualis ubi in lucem coluber mala gramina pastus, Frigida sub terra tumidum quem bruma tegebat, Nunc positis novus exuviis nitidusque juventa, Lubrica convolvit sublato pectore terga Arduus ad solem, at linguis micat ore trisulcis." Virg. AEN.
Napoleon sought to disunite the formidable confederacy, which he knew would be arrayed against him, by endeavouring to negotiate separately with each of the allied sovereigns. It is said that Austria and Russia were at first not unwilling to treat with him. Disputes and jealousies had been rife among several of the Allies on the subject of the division of the conquered countries; and the cordial unanimity with which they had acted during 1813 and the first months of 1814, had grown chill during some weeks of discussions. But the active exertions of Tralleyrand, who represented Louis XVIII. at the Congress, and who both hated and feared Napoleon with all the intensity of which his powerful spirit was capable, prevented the secession of any member of the Congress from the new great league against their ancient enemy. Still it is highly probable that, if Napoleon had triumphed in Belgium over the Prussians and the English, he would have succeeded in opening negotiations with the Austrians and Russians; and he might have thus gained advantages similar to those which he had obtained on his return from Egypt, when he induced the Czar Paul to withdraw the Russian armies from co- operating with the other enemies of France in the extremity of peril to which she seemed reduced in 1799. But fortune now had deserted him both in diplomacy and in war.
On the 13th of March, 1815, the Ministers of the seven powers, Austria, Spain, England, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden, signed a manifesto, by which they declared Napoleon an outlaw; and this denunciation was instantly followed up by a treaty between England, Austria, Prussia, and Russia (to which other powers soon acceded), by which the rulers of those countries bound themselves to enforce that decree, and to prosecute the war until Napoleon should be driven from the throne of France, and rendered incapable of disturbing the peace of Europe. The Duke of Wellington was the representative of England at the Congress of Vienna, and he was immediately applied to for his advice on the plan of military operations against France. It was obvious that Belgium would be the first battle-field; and by the general wish of the Allies, the English Duke proceeded thither to assemble an army from the contingents of Dutch, Belgian, and Hanoverian troops, that were most speedily available, and from the English regiments which his own Government was hastening to send over from this country. A strong Prussian corps was near Aix-la-Chapelle, having remained there since the campaign of the preceding year. This was largely reinforced by other troops of the same nation; and Marshal Blucher, the favourite hero of the Prussian soldiery, and the deadliest foe of France, assumed the command of this army, which was termed the Army of the Lower Rhine; and which, in conjunction with Wellington's forces, was to make the van of the armaments of the Allied Powers. Meanwhile Prince Swartzenburg was to collect 130,000 Austrians, and 124,000 troops of other Germanic States, as "the Army of the Upper Rhine;" and 168,000 Russians, under the command of Barclay de Tolly, were to form "the Army of the Middle Rhine," and to repeat the march from Muscovy to that river's banks.
The exertions which the Allied Powers thus made at this crisis to grapple promptly with the French emperor have truly been termed gigantic; and never were Napoleon's genius and activity more signally displayed, than in the celerity and skill by which he brought forward all the military resources of France, which the reverses of the three preceding years, and the pacific policy of the Bourbons during the months of their first restoration, had greatly diminished and disorganized. He re-entered Paris on the 20th of March, and by the end of May, besides sending a force into La Vendee to put down the armed rising of the royalists in that province, and besides providing troops under Massena and Suchet for the defence of the southern frontiers of France, Napoleon had an army assembled in the north-east for active operations under his own command, which amounted to between one hundred and twenty, and one hundred and thirty thousand men, with a superb park of artillery and in the highest possible state of equipment, discipline, and efficiency. [See for these numbers Siborne's History of the Campaign of Waterloo, vol. i. p. 41.]
The approach of the multitudinous Russian, Austrian, Bavarian, and other foes of the French Emperor to the Rhine was necessarily slow; but the two most active of the allied powers had occupied Belgium with their troops, while Napoleon was organizing his forces. Marshal Blucher was there with one hundred and sixteen thousand Prussians; and, before the end of May, the Duke of Wellington was there also with about one hundred and six thousand troops, either British or in British pay. [Ibid. vol. i. chap.
The triple chain of strong fortresses, which the French possessed on the Belgian frontier, formed a curtain, behind which Napoleon was able to concentrate his army, and to conceal, till the very last moment, the precise line of attack which he intended to take. On the other hand, Blucher and Wellington were obliged to canton their troops along a line of open country of considerable length, so as to watch for the outbreak of Napoleon from whichever point of his chain of strongholds he should please to make it. Blucher, with his army, occupied the banks of the Sambre and the Meuse, from Liege on his left, to Charleroi on his right; and the Duke of Wellington covered Brussels; his cantonments being partly in front of that city and between it and the French frontier, and partly on its west their extreme right reaching to Courtray and Tournay, while the left approached Charleroi and communicated with the Prussian right. It was upon Charleroi that Napoleon resolved to level his attack, in hopes of severing the two allied armies from each other, and then pursuing his favourite tactic of assailing each separately with a superior force on the battle-field, though the aggregate of their numbers considerably exceeded his own.
The first French corps d'armee, commanded by Count d'Erlon, was stationed in the beginning of June in and around the city of Lille, near to the north-eastern frontier of France. The second corps, under Count Reille, was at Valenciennes, to the right of the first one. The third corps, under Count Vandamme, was at Mezieres. The fourth, under Count Gerard, had its head-quarters at Metz, and the sixth under Count Lobau, was at Laon. [The fifth corps was under Count Rapp at Strasburg.] Four corps of reserve cavalry, under Marshal Grouchy, were also near the frontier, between the rivers Aisne and Sambre. The Imperial Guard remained in Paris until the 8th of June, when it marched towards Belgium, and reached Avesnes on the 13th; and in the course of the same and the following day, the five corps d'armee with the cavalry reserves which have been mentioned, were, in pursuance of skilfully combined orders, rapidly drawn together, and concentrated in and around the same place, on the right bank of the river Sambre. On the 14th Napoleon arrived among his troops, who were exulting at the display of their commander's skill in the celerity and precision with which they had been drawn together, and in the consciousness of their collective strength. Although Napoleon too often permitted himself to use language unworthy of his own character respecting his great English adversary, his real feelings in commencing this campaign may be judged from the last words which he spoke, as he threw himself into his travelling carriage to leave Paris for the army. "I go," he said, "to measure myself with Wellington."
The enthusiasm of the French soldiers at seeing their Emperor among them, was still more excited by the "Order of the day," in which he thus appealed to them:
"Napoleon, by the Grace of God, and the Constitution of the Empire, Emperor of the French, &c. to the Grand Army.
AT THE IMPERIAL HEAD-QUARTERS, AVESNES, JUNE 14th, 1815. "Soldiers! this day is the anniversary of Marengo and of Friedland, which twice decided the destiny of Europe. Then, as after Austerlitz, as after Wagram, we were too generous! We believed in the protestations and in the oaths of princes, whom we left on their thrones. Now, however, leagued together, they aim at the independence and the most sacred rights of France. They have commenced the most unjust of aggressions. Let us, then, march to meet them. Are they and we no longer the same men?
"Soldiers! at Jena, against these same Prussians, now so arrogant, you were one to three, and at Montmirail one to six!
"Let those among you who have been captives to the English, describe the nature of their prison ships, and the frightful miseries they endured.
"The Saxons, the Belgians, the Hanoverians, the soldiers of the Confederation of the Rhine, lament that they are compelled to use their arms in the cause of princes, the enemies of justice and of the rights of all nations. They know that this coalition is insatiable! After having devoured twelve millions of Poles, twelve millions of Italians, one million of Saxons, and six millions of Belgians, it now wishes to devour the states of the second rank in Germany.
"Madmen! one moment of prosperity has bewildered them. The oppression and the humiliation of the French people are beyond their power. If they enter France they will there find their grave.
"Soldiers! we have forced marches to make, battles to fight, dangers to encounter; but, with firmness victory will, be ours. The rights, the honour, and the happiness of the country will be recovered!
"To every Frenchman who has a heart, the moment is now arrived to
conquer or to die. "NAPOLEON."
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