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THE UNITED STATES
Vol. m. OCTOBER 1, 1825. No. 1.
History of the Expedition to Russia, undertaken by the Emperor Napoleon, in the Year 1812. By General, Count Philip De Segur. With a Map. Philadelphia. 1825. 8vo. pp.546.
This work gives a minute and exact account of the most remarkable military event of modern days. The author was with Napoleon, when he led forth the forces of his empire and its subjugated nations to make war upon that great rival, who was to be overthrown, before the natural growth of his vast power should enable him to overthrow. France had subdued nearly all of continental Europe; but the commerce of England gave her, in her wealth, a means of resistance, which, aided by her insular position, was too strong to be beaten down; and in the north and east, Alexander held in his hand the whole power of an empire, which had spread itself over the third part of the old world. Russia was a formidable obstacle to the career of Napoleon, not only from her own strength, but from the assistance which she could give to, and receive from England. Besides, Russia and France had become, in point of fact, near neighbours. The sway of each of these potentates had spread onward, until there was nothing between them; they touched, and the next step of either must have been resisted or yielded to by the other; the conflict could no longer be delayed. The work, now under our notice, gives additional proof, if anjT were wanting, that Napoleon considered his attack upon Russia as a part of his system, as a last effort, which would complete his achicve
ments, without which nothing that he had won was secure, and for which every thing that he had done was but a mighty preparation. The precautions which tie took to ensure success, show, that it seemed to him most difficult and most important. He not only brought into the field all the best forces of his own empire, but banded with them the elite of all the nations which had yielded to his arms, or acknowledged his influence. He advanced into Russia with more than six hundred thousand men, and had almost exhausted his resources in accumulating abundant supplies for this enormous army. Surely, he had good reason to believe, that victory could not now, for the first time, fail to attend him; surely, no human wisdom would have been justified in believing that this countless host, strong in its discipline as in its numbers, commanded by the greatest general on earth, and by a multitude of men, whose military skill and virtues had made them marshals, and princes, and kings, was to be baffled and destroyed. The causes which led to this extraordinary result are now obvious; they were irresistible. Napoleon was conquered by the elements, and by the mode of warfare which the Russians adopted. Unquestionably the direst foe which he was called to encounter—that before which he fell prostrate—was the Russian winter. It may seem, that, on the one hand, this should have been foreseen by Napoleon, while, on the other, its horrors could not have been increased by any efforts of Alexander; and that, therefore, the defeat and destruction of the invading army, so far as it depended upon this circumstance, must be attributed to the improvidence of its commander, and to the good fortune of the Russian emperor. But it was the astonisning and unprecedented sacrifices of Alexander,—and they constituted almost the whole of his defence,—which armed the angry elements with resistless power. The winter came to the Russians as soon as to the French; the cold winds smote them as rudely, the snow was as deep beneath their feet, and the blinding, overwhelming tempests had no peculiar mercy for them; and though they were at home in these wastes, and their invaders had come up from their cultivated fields and accustomed habitations, to encounter, in a strange land, an enemy such as they had never before met, this was not the only nor the chief difference in their conditions. The French advanced almost without resistance, but they advanced only from one desolation to another. As the Russians retreated, they devastated the country, and burnt down their cities, their villages,and cottages, with unsparing and unswerving resolution. *The destruction of Moscow consummated the sacrifice. Napoleon took possession of the wealthy and populous capital of a vast empire, and encamped his troops among ruins, where none of the inhabitants of the great city remained to welcome or resist him, but a few wretched vagrants, to whom it was no change to be without a home. From a situation like this, retreat was unavoidable; and the Russians had taken care that the road his army must follow should be desolate as rmn and nature, working together, could make it. It was thus that this tremendous winter, which, in spite of all the precautions which experience and abundant resources could supply, thinned the Russian ranks and almost paralyzed their effVts, brought to their invaders utter ruin. The particulars of this march and retreat are given in the book now before us.
The first chapters describe the position of Napoleon with respect to the various powers of Europe, and disclose the different motives which, with more or less weight, induced him to take the great step of advancing with all his force upon Russia.
Perhaps the most interestmg part of this work is that which discovers how necessary this despot thought it to persuade his principal officers into his own opinion, and shows by what arguments he endeavoured to effect this object.
To a minister of high rank under the ancient rtgime, whom the idea of shedding so much blood, to gratify ambition, filled with dismay he declared, " that it was a war of policy exclusively; that it was the Enelish alone whom he meant to attack through Russia; that the campaign would be short; that afterwards France would be at rest; that it was the fifth act of the drama—the dtnouement."
To others, he pleaded the ambition of Russia, and the force of circumstances, which dragged him into the war in spite of himself. With superficial and inexperienced individuals, to whom he neither wished to explain nor dissemble, he cut matters short by saying, "You understand nothing of all this; you are ignorant of its antecedents and its consequents."
But to the princes of his family he had long revealed the state of his thoughts; he complained that they did not sufficiently appreciate his position. "Can you not see," said he to them, " that, as I was not born open the throne, I must support myself on it, as I ascended it, by my renown ?—that it is necessary for it to go on increasing;—that a private individual, become a sovereign like myself, can no longer stop;—that he must be continually ascending, and that to be stationary is to be lost?"