Nations of Europe and the Great War - Charles Morris

The Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire

Dawn of a New Era in Europe


Ambition, unrestrained by caution, uncontrolled by moderation, has its inevitable end. An empire built upon victory, trusting solely to military genius, prepares for itself the elements of its overthrow. This fact Napoleon was to learn. In the outset of his career he opposed a new art of war to the obsolete one of his enemies, and his path to empire was over the corpses of slaughtered armies and the ruins of fallen kingdoms. But year by year his foes learned his art, in war after war their resistance grew more stringent, each successive victory was won with more difficulty and at greater cost, and finally, at the crossing of the Danube, the energy and genius of Napoleon met their equal, and the standards of France, for the first time under Napoleon's leadership, went back in defeat. It was the tocsin of fate. His career of victory had culminated. From that day its decline began.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


The Kings and People of Spain

It is interesting to find that the first effective check to Napoleon's victorious progress came from one of the weaker nations of Europe, a power which the conqueror contemned and thought to move as one of the minor pieces in his game of empire. Spain at that time had reached almost the lowest stage of its decline. Its king was an imbecile; the heir to the throne a weakling; Godoy, the "Prince of the Peace," the monarch's favorite, an ambitious intriguer. Napoleon's armies had invaded Portugal and forced its monarch to embark for Brazil, his American domain. A similar movement was attempted in Spain. This country the base Godoy betrayed to Napoleon, and then, frightened by the consequences of his dishonorable intrigues, sought to escape with the king and court to the Spanish dominions in America. His scheme was prevented by an outbreak of the people of Madrid, and Napoleon, ambitiously designing to add the peninsula to his empire, induced both Charles IV and his son Ferdinand to resign from the throne. He replaced them by his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, who, on June 6, 1808, was named King of Spain.

Hitherto Napoleon had dealt with emperors and kings, whose overthrow carried with it that of their people. In Spain he had a new element, the people itself, to deal with. The very weakness of Spain proved its strength. Deprived of their native monarchs, and given a king not of their own choice, the whole people rose in rebellion and defied Napoleon and his armies. An insurrection broke out in Madrid in which 1,200 French soldiers were slain. Juntas were formed in different cities, which assumed the control of affairs and refused obedience to the new king. From end to end of Spain the people sprang to arms and began a guerilla warfare which the troops of Napoleon sought in vain to quell. The bayonets of the French were able to sustain King Joseph and his court in Madrid, but proved powerless to put down the people. Each city, each district, became a separate center of war, each had to be conquered separately, and the strength of the troops was consumed in petty contests with a people who avoided open warfare and dealt, in surprises and scattered fights, in which victory counted for little and needed to be repeated a thousand times.

French Defeated and Napoleon in Command

The Spanish did more than this. They put an army in the field which was defeated by the French, but they revenged themselves brilliantly at Baylen, in Andalusia, where General Dupont, with a corps 20,000 strong, was surrounded in a position from which there was no escape, and forced to surrender himself and his men as prisoners of war.

This undisciplined people had gained a victory over France which none of the great Powers of Europe could match. The Spaniards were filled with enthusiasm; King Joseph hastily abandoned Madrid; the French armies retreated across the Ebro. Soon encouraging news came from Portugal. The English, hitherto mainly confining themselves to naval warfare and to aiding the enemies of Napoleon with money, had landed an army in that country under Sir Arthur Wellesley (afterwards Lord Wellington) and other generals, which would have captured the entire French army had it not capitulated on the terms of a free passage to France. For the time being the peninsula of Spain and Portugal was free from Napoleon's power.

The humiliating reverse to his arms called Napoleon himself into the field. He marched at the head of an army into Spain, defeated the insurgents wherever met, and reinstated his brother on the throne. The city of Saragossa, which made one of the most heroic defenses known in history, was taken, and the advance of the British armies was checked. And yet, though Spain was widely overrun, the people did not yield. The junta at Cadiz defied the French, the guerillas continued in the field, and the invaders found themselves baffled by an enemy who was felt oftener than seen.

The Austrian war called away the emperor and the bulk of his troops, but after it was over he filled Spain with his veterans, increasing the strength of the army there to 300,000 men, under his ablest generals, Soult, Massena, Ney, Marmont, Macdonald and others. They marched through Spain from end to end, yet, though they held all the salient points, the people refused to submit, but from their mountain fastnesses kept up a petty and annoying war.

The Triumph of Wellington

Massena, in 1811, invaded Portugal, where Wellington with an English army awaited him behind the strong lines of Torres Vedras, which the ever-victorious French sought in vain to carry by assault. Massena was compelled to retreat, and Soult, by whom the emperor replaced him, was no more successful against the shrewd English general. At length Spain won the reward of her patriotic defense. The Russian campaign of 1812 compelled the emperor to deplete his army in that country, and Wellington came to the aid of the patriots, defeated Marmont at Salamanca, entered Madrid, and forced King Joseph once more to flee from his unquiet throne.

For a brief interval he was restored by the French army under Soult and Suchet, but the disasters of the Russian campaign brought the reign of King Joseph to a final end, and forced him to give up the pretence of reigning over a people who were unflinchingly determined to have no king but one of their own choice. The story of the Spanish war ends in 1813, when Wellington defeated the French at Vittoria, pursued them across the Pyrenees, and set foot upon the soil of France.

Napoleon's Fatal Enterprise

While these events were taking place in Spain the power of Napoleon was being shattered to fragments in the north. On the banks of the Niemen, a river that flows between Prussia and Poland, there gathered near the end of June, 1812, an immense army of more than 600,000 men, attended by an enormous multitude of non-combatants, their purpose being the invasion of the empire of Russia. Of this great army, made up of troops from half the nations of Europe, there reappeared six months later on that broad stream about 16,000 armed men, almost all that were left of that stupendous host. The remainder had perished on the desert soil or in the frozen rivers of Russia, few of them surviving as prisoners in Russian hands. Such was the character of the dread catastrophe that broke the power of the mighty conqueror and delivered Europe from his autocratic grasp.

The breach of relations between Napoleon and Alexander was largely due to the arbitrary and high-handed proceedings of the French emperor, who was accustomed to deal with the map of Europe as if it represented his private domain. He offended Alexander by enlarging the duchy of Warsaw—one of his own creations—and deeply incensed him by extending the French empire to the shores of the Baltic, thus robbing of his dominion the Duke of Oldenburg, a near relative of Alexander. On the other hand the Czar declined to submit the commercial interests of his country to the rigor of Napoleon's "continental blockade," and made a new tariff which interfered with the importation of French and favored that of English goods. These acts in which Alexander chose to place his own interests in advance of those of Napoleon were as wormwood to the haughty soul of the latter, and he determined to punish the Russian autocrat as he had done the other monarchs of Europe.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


For a year or two before war was declared Napoleon had been preparing for the greatest struggle of his life, adding to his army by the most rigorous methods of conscription and collecting great magazines of war material, though still professing friendship for Alexander. The latter, however, was not deceived. He prepared, on his part, for the threatened struggle, made peace with the Turks, and formed an alliance with Bernadotte, the crown prince of Sweden, who had good reason to be offended with his former lord and master. Napoleon, on his side, allied himself with Prussia and Austria, and added to his army large contingents of troops from the German states. At length the great conflict was ready to begin between the two autocrats, the Emperors of the East and the West, and Europe resounded with the tread of marching feet.

The Grand Army in Russia

In the closing days of June the grand army crossed the Niemen, its last regiments reaching Russian soil by the opening of July. Napoleon, with the advance, pressed on to Wilna, the capital of Lithuania. On all sides the Poles rose in enthusiastic hope, and joined the ranks of the man whom they looked upon as their deliverer. Onward went the great army, marching with Napoleon's accustomed rapidity, seeking to prevent the concentration of the divided Russian forces, and advancing daily deeper into the dominions of the Czar.

The French emperor had his plans well laid. He proposed to meet the Russians in force on some interior field, win from them one of his accustomed brilliant victories, crush them with his enormous columns, and force the dismayed Czar to sue for peace on his own terms. But plans need two sides for their consummation, and the Russian leaders did not propose to lose the advantage given them by nature. On and on went Napoleon, deeper and deeper into that desolate land, but the great army he was to crush failed to loom up before him, the broad plains still spread onward empty of soldiers, and disquiet began to assail his imperious soul as he found the Russian hosts keeping constantly beyond his reach, luring him ever more deeply into their vast territory. In truth Barclay de Tolly, the Czar's chief in command, had adopted a policy which was sure to prove fatal to Napoleon's purpose, that of persistently avoiding battle and keeping the French in pursuit of a fleeting will-of-the-wisp, while their army wasted away from natural disintegration in that inhospitable clime.

He was correct in his views. Desertion, illness, the death of young recruits who could not endure the hardships of a rapid march in the severe heat of midsummer, began their fatal work. Napoleon's plan of campaign proved a total failure. The Russians would not wait to be defeated, and each day's march opened a wider circle of operations before the advancing host, whom the interminable plain filled with a sense of hopelessness. The heat was overpowering, and men dropped from the ranks as rapidly as though on a field of battle. At Vitebsk the army was inspected, and the emperor was alarmed at the rapid decrease in his forces. Some of the divisions had lost more than a fourth of their men, in every corps the ranks were depleted, and reinforcements already had to be set on the march.

Onward they went, here and there bringing the Russians to bay in a minor engagement, but nowhere meeting them in numbers. Europe waited in vain for tidings of a great battle, and Napoleon began to look upon his proud army with a feeling akin to despair. He was not alone in his eagerness for battle. Some of the high-spirited Russians, among them Prince Bagration, were as eager, but as yet the prudent policy of Barclay de Tolly prevailed, and the armies of Russia kept beyond the reach of their foes.

Smolensk on Fire

On the 14th of August, the army crossed the Dnieper, and marched, now 175,000 strong, upon Smolensk, which was reached on the 16th. This ancient and venerable town was dear to the Russians, and they made their first determined stand in its defense, fighting behind its walls all day of the 17th. Finding that the assault was likely to succeed, they set fire to the town at night and withdrew, leaving to the French a city in flames. The bridge was cut, the Russian army was beyond pursuit on the road to Moscow, nothing had been gained by the struggle but the ruins of a town.

The situation was growing desperate. For two months the army had advanced without a battle of importance, and was now in the heart of Russia, reduced to half its numbers, while the hoped-for victory seemed as far off as ever. And the short summer of the north was nearing its end. The severe winter of that climate would soon begin. Discouragement everywhere prevailed. Efforts were made by Napoleon's marshals to induce him to give up the losing game and retreat, but he was not to be moved from his purpose. Stubborn adherence to his plans was a marked phase of his character. A march on Moscow, the old capital of the empire, he felt sure would bring the Russians to bay. Once within its walls he hoped to dictate terms of peace.

The Fight at Borodino

Napoleon was soon to have the battle for which his soul craved. Barclay's prudent and successful policy was not to the taste of many of the Russian leaders, and the Czar was at length induced to replace him by fiery old Kutusoff, who had commanded the Russians at Austerlitz. A change in the situation was soon apparent. On the 5th of September the French army debouched upon the plain of Borodino, on the road to Moscow, and the emperor saw with joy the Russian army drawn up to dispute the way to the "Holy City" of the Muscovites. The dark columns of troops were strongly intrenched behind a small stream, frowning rows of guns threatened the advancing foe, and hope returned to the emperor's heart. He felt sure that he now had the enemy within his grasp and that victory would turn the situation in his favor.

Battle began early on the 7th, and continued all day long, the Russians defending their ground with unyielding stubbornness, the French attacking their positions with all their old impetuous dash and energy. Murat and Ney were the heroes of the day. Again and again the emperor was implored to send the imperial guard and overwhelm the foe, but he persistently refused. "If there is a second battle tomorrow," he said, "what troops shall I fight it with? It is not when one is eight hundred leagues from home that he risks his last resource."

The guard was not needed. On the following day Kutusoff was obliged to withdraw, leaving no less than 40,000 dead or wounded on the field. Among the killed was the brave Prince Bagration. The retreat was an orderly one. Napoleon found it expedient not to pursue. His own losses aggregated over 30,000, among them an unusual number of generals, of whom ten were killed and thirty-nine wounded. Three days proved a brief time to attend to the burial of the dead and the needs of the wounded. Napoleon named the engagement the Battle of the Moskwa, from the river that crossed the plain, and honored Ney, as the hero of the day, with the title of Prince of Moskwa.

Moscow Occupied by the French

On the 15th the Holy City was reached. A shout of "Moscow! Moscow!" went up from the whole army as they gazed on the gilded cupolas and magnificent buildings of that famous city, brilliantly lit up by the afternoon sun. Twenty miles in circumference, dazzling with the green of its copper domes and its minarets of yellow stone, the towers and walls of the famous Kremlin rising above its palaces and gardens, it seemed like some fabled city of the Arabian Nights. With renewed enthusiasm the troops rushed towards it, while whole regiments of Poles fell on their knees, thanking God for delivering this stronghold of their oppressors into their hands.

It was an empty city into which the French marched; its streets deserted, its dwellings silent. Its busy life had vanished like a morning mist. Kutusoff had marched his army through it and left it to his foes. The inhabitants were gone, with what they could carry of their treasures. The city, like the empire, seemed likely to be a barren conquest, for here, as elsewhere, the policy of retreat, so fatal to Napoleon's hopes, was put into effect. The emperor took up his abode in the Kremlin, within whose ample precincts he found quarters for the whole imperial guard. The remainder of the army was stationed at chosen points about the city. Provisions were abundant, the houses and stores of the city being amply supplied. The army enjoyed a luxury of which it had been long deprived, while Napoleon confidently awaited a triumphant result from his victorious progress.

The Terror of Flame

A terrible disenchantment awaited the invader. Early on the following morning word was brought him that Moscow was on fire. Flames arose from houses that had not been opened. It was evidently a premeditated conflagration. The fire burst out at once in a dozen quarters, and a high wind carried the flames from street to street, from house to house, from church to church. Russians were captured who boasted that they had fired the town under orders and who met death unflinchingly. The governor had left them behind for this fell purpose. The poorer people, many of whom had remained hidden in their huts, now fled in terror, taking with them what cherished possessions they could carry. Soon the city was a seething mass of flames.

The Kremlin did not escape. A tower burst into flames. In vain the imperial guard sought to check the fire. No fire-engines were to be found in the town. Napoleon hastily left the palace and sought shelter outside the city, where for three days the flames ran riot, feeding on ancient palaces and destroying untold treasures. Then the wind sank and rain poured upon the smouldering embers. The great city had become a desolate heap of smoking ruins, into which the soldiers daringly stole back in search of valuables that might have escaped the flames.

This frightful conflagration was not due to the Czar, but to Count Rostoptchin, the governor of Moscow, who was subsequently driven from Russia by the execrations of those he had ruined. But it served as a proclamation to Europe of the implacable resolution of the Muscovites and their determination to resist to the bitter end.

Napoleon's Dread Dilemma

Napoleon, sadly troubled in soul, sent letters to Alexander, suggesting the advisability of peace. Alexander left his letters unanswered. Until October 18th the emperor waited, hoping against hope, willing to grant almost any terms for an opportunity to escape from the fatal trap into which his overweening ambition had led him. No answer came from the Czar. He was inflexible in his determination not to treat with these invaders of his country. In deep dejection Napoleon at length gave the order to retreat—too late, as it was to prove, since the terrible Russian winter was ready to descend upon them in all its frightful strength.

The army that left that ruined city was a sadly depleted one. It had been reduced to 103,000 men. The army followers had also become greatly decreased in numbers, but still formed a host, among them delicate ladies, thinly clad, who gazed with terrified eyes from their traveling carriages upon the dejected troops. Articles of plunder of all kinds were carried by the soldiers, even the wounded in the wagons lying amid the spoil they had gathered. The Kremlin was destroyed by the rear guard, under Napoleon's orders, and over the drear Russian plains the retreat began.

It was no sooner under way than the Russian policy changed. From retreating, they everywhere advanced, seeking to annoy and cut off the enemy, and utterly to destroy the fugitive army if possible. A stand was made at the town of Maloyaroslavetz, where a sanguinary combat took place. The French captured the town, but ten thousand men lay dead or wounded on the field, while Napoleon was forced to abandon his projected line of march, and to take for his return the route he had followed in his advance on Moscow. From the bloody scene of contest the retreat continued, the battlefield of Borodino being crossed, and, by the middle of November, the ruins of Smolensk reached.

Winter in Full Fury

Winter was now upon the French in all its fury. The food brought from Moscow had been exhausted. Famine, frost and fatigue had proved more fatal than the bullets of the enemy. In fourteen days after reaching Moscow the army lost 43,000 men, leaving it only 60,000 strong. On reaching Smolensk it numbered but 42,000, having lost 18,000 more within eight days. The unarmed followers are said to have still numbered 60,000. Worse still, the supply of arms and provisions ordered to be ready at Smolensk was in great part lacking, only rye-flour and rice being found. Starvation threatened to aid the winter cold in the destruction of the feeble remnant of the "Grand Army."

Onward went the despairing host, at every step harassed by the Russians, who followed like wolves on their path. Ney, in command of the rear-guard, was the hero of the retreat. Cut off by the Russians from the main column, and apparently lost beyond hope, he made a wonderful escape by crossing the Dnieper on the ice during the night and rejoining his companions, who had given up the hope of ever seeing him again.

On the 26th the ice-cold river Beresina was reached, destined to be the most terrible point on the whole dreadful march. Two bridges were thrown in all haste across the stream, and most of the men under arms crossed, but 18,000 stragglers fell into the hands of the enemy. How many were trodden to death in the press or were crowded from the bridge into the icy river cannot be told. It is said that when spring thawed the ice 30,000 bodies were found and burned on the banks of the stream. A mere fragment of the great army remained alive. Ney was the last man to cross that frightful stream.

The Remnant of the Grand Army

On the 3d of December Napoleon issued a bulletin which has become famous, telling the anxious nations of Europe that the grand army was annihilated, but the emperor was safe. Two days afterwards he surrendered the command of the army to Murat and set out at all speed for Paris, where his presence was indispensably necessary. On the 13th of December some 16,000 haggard and staggering men, almost too weak to hold the arms to which they still despairingly clung, recrossed the Niemen, which the "Grand Army" had passed in such magnificent strength and with such abounding resources less than six months before. It was the greatest and most astounding disaster in the military history of the world.

This tale of terror may be fitly closed by a dramatic story told by General Mathieu Dumas, who, while sitting at breakfast in Gumbinnen, saw enter a haggard man, with long beard, blackened face, and red and glaring eyes.

"I am here at last," he exclaimed. "Don't you know me?"

"No," said the general. "Who are you?"

"I am the rear-guard of the Grand Army. I have fired the last musket-shot on the bridge of Kowno. I have thrown the last of our arms into the Niemen, and came hither through the woods. I am Marshal Ney."

"This is the beginning of the end," said the shrewd Talleyrand, when Napoleon set out on his Russian campaign. The remark proved true, the disaster in Russia had loosened the grasp of the Corsican on the throat of Europe, and the nations, which hated as much as they feared their ruthless enemy, made active preparations for his overthrow. While he was in France, actively gathering men and materials for a renewed struggle, signs of an implacable hostility began to manifest themselves on all sides in the surrounding states. Belief in the invincibility of Napoleon had vanished, and little fear was entertained of the raw conscripts whom he was forcing into the ranks to replace his slaughtered veterans.

Europe Rises against the Corsican

Prussia was the first to break the bonds of alliance with France, to ally itself with Russia, and to call its people to arms against their oppressor. They responded with the utmost enthusiasm, men of all ranks and all professions hastened to their country's defense, and the noble and the peasant stood side by side as privates in the same regiment. In March, 1813, the French left Berlin, which was immediately occupied by the Russian and Prussian allies. The king of Saxony, however, refused to desert Napoleon, to whom he owed many favors and whose anger he feared; and his realm, in consequence, became the theater of the war.

Across the opposite borders of this kingdom poured the hostile hosts, meeting in battle at Lutzen and Buntzen. Here the French held the field, driving their adversaries across the Oder, but not in the wild dismay seen at Jena. A new spirit had been aroused in the Prussian heart, and they left thousands of their enemies dead upon the field, among whom Napoleon saw with grief his especial friend and favorite Duroc.

A truce followed, which the French emperor utilized in gathering fresh levies. Prince Metternich, the able chancellor of the Austrian empire, sought to make peace, but his demands upon Napoleon were much greater than the proud conqueror was prepared to grant, and he decisively refused to cede the territory held by him as the spoils of war. His refusal brought upon him another powerful foe, Austria allied itself with his enemies, formally declaring war on August 12, 1813, and an active and terrible struggle began.

Napoleon's Last Important Victory

Napoleon's army was rapidly concentrated at Dresden, upon whose works of defense the allied army precipitated itself in a vigorous assault on August 26th. Its strength was wasted against the vigorously-held fortifications of the city, and in the end the gates were flung open and the serried battalions of the Old Guard appeared in battle array. From every gate of the city these tried soldiers poured, and rushed upon the unprepared wings of the hostile host. Before this resistless charge the enemy recoiled, retreating with heavy loss to the heights beyond the city, and leaving Napoleon master of the field.

On the next morning the battle was resumed. The allies, strongly posted, still outnumbered the French, and had abundant reason to expect victory. But Napoleon's eagle eye quickly saw that their left wing lacked the strength of the remainder of the line, and upon this he poured the bulk of his forces, while keeping their center and right actively engaged. The result justified the instinct of his genius, the enemy was driven back in disastrous defeat, and once again a glorious victory was inscribed upon the banners of France—the final one in Napoleon's career of fame.

Yet the fruits of this victory were largely lost in the events of the remainder of the month. On the 26th Blucher brilliantly defeated Marshal Macdonald on the Katzbach, in Silesia; on the 30th General Vandamme, with 10,000 French soldiers, was surrounded and captured at Culm, in Bohemia; and on the 27th Hirschfeld, at Hagelsberg, with a corps of volunteers, defeated Girard. The Prussian-Swedish army similarly won victories on August 25th and September 6th, and a few weeks afterward the Prussian general, Count York, supported by the troops of General Horn, crossed the Elbe in the face of the enemy, and gained a brilliant victory at Wartenburg. Where Napoleon was present victory inclined to his banner. Where he was absent his lieutenants suffered defeat. The struggle was everywhere fierce and desperate, but the end was at hand.

The Last Stand at Leipzig

The rulers of the Rhine Confederation now began to desert Napoleon and all Germany to join against him. The first to secede was Bavaria, which allied itself with Austria and joined its forces to those of the allies. During October the hostile armies concentrated in front of Leipzig, where was to be fought the decisive battle of the war. The struggle promised was the most gigantic one in which Napoleon had ever been engaged. Against his 100,000 men was gathered a host of 300,000 Austrians, Prussians, Russians, and Swedes.

We have not space to describe the multitudinous details of this mighty struggle, which continued with unabated fury for three days, October 16th, 17th, and 18th. It need scarcely be said that the generalship shown by Napoleon in this famous contest lacked nothing of his usual brilliancy, and that he was ably seconded by Ney, Murat, Augereau, and others of his famous generals, yet the overwhelming numbers of the enemy enabled them to defy all the valor of the French and the resources of their great leader, and at evening of the 18th the armies still faced each other in battle array, the fate of the field yet undecided.

Napoleon was in no condition to renew the combat. During the long affray the French had expended no less than 250,000 cannon balls. They had but 16,000 left, which two hours' firing would exhaust. Reluctantly he gave the order to retreat, and all that night the wearied and disheartened troops filed through the gates of Leipzig, leaving a rear-guard in the city, who defended it bravely against the swarming multitude of the foe. A disastrous blunder terminated their stubborn defense. Orders had been left to blow up the bridge across the Elster, but the mine was, by mistake, set off too soon, and the gallant garrison, 12,000 in number, with a multitude of sick and wounded, was forced to surrender as prisoners of war.

The Empire Goes to Pieces

The end was drawing near. Vigorously pursued, the French reached the Rhine by forced marches, defeating with heavy loss the army of Austrians and Bavarians which sought to block their way. The stream was crossed and the French were once more upon their own soil. After years of contest, Germany was finally freed from Napoleon's long-victorious hosts.

Marked results followed. The carefully organized work of Napoleon's policy quickly fell to pieces. The kingdom of Westphalia was dissolved. The elector of Hesse and the dukes of Brunswick and Oldenburg returned to the thrones from which they had been driven. The Confederation of the Rhine ceased to exist, and its states allied themselves with Austria. Denmark, long faithful to France, renounced its alliance in January, 1814. Austria regained possession of Lombardy, the duke of Tuscany returned to his capital, and the Pope, Pius VII, long held captive by Napoleon, went back in triumph to Rome. A few months sufficed to break down the edifice of empire slowly reared through so many years, and almost all Europe outside of France united itself in hostility to its hated foe.

Napoleon was offered peace if he would accept the Rhine as the French frontier, but his old infatuation and trust in his genius prevailed over the dictates of prudence, he treated the offer in his usual double-dealing way, and the allies, convinced that there could be no stable peace while he remained on the throne, decided to cross the Rhine and invade France.

Blucher led his columns across the stream on the first day of 1814, Schwarzenberg marched through Switzerland into France, and Wellington crossed the Pyrenees. Napoleon, like a wolf brought to bay, sought to dispose of his scattered foes before they would unite, and began with Blucher, whom he defeated five times in as many days. The allies, still in dread of their great opponent, once more offered him peace, but his success robbed him of wisdom, he demanded more than they were willing to give, and his enemies, encouraged by a success gained by Blucher, broke off the negotiations and marched on Paris, now bent on the dethronement of their dreaded antagonist.

Napoleon Exiled to Elba

A few words will bring the story of this contest to an end. France was exhausted, its army was incapable of coping with the serried battalions marshaled against it, Paris surrendered before Napoleon could come to its defense, and in the end the emperor, vacillating and in despair, was obliged, on April 7, 1814, to sign an unconditional act of abdication. The Powers of Europe awarded him as a kingdom the diminutive island of Elba, in the Mediterranean, with an annual income of 2,000,000 francs and an army composed of 400 of his famous guard. The next heir to the throne returned as Louis X VIII. France was given back its old frontier of 1492, the foreign armies withdrew from her soil, and the career of the great Corsican seemed at an end.

In spite of their long experience with Napoleon, the event proved that the Powers of Europe knew not all the audacity and mental resources of the man with whom they had to deal. They had made what might have proved a fatal error in giving him an asylum so near the coast of France, whose people, intoxicated with the dream of glory through which he had so long led them, would be sure to respond enthusiastically to an appeal to rally to his support.

The Powers were soon to learn their error. While the Congress of Vienna, convened to restore the old constitution of Europe, was deliberating and disputing, its members were startled by the news that the dethroned emperor was again upon the soil of France, and that Louis XVIII was in full flight for the frontier. Napoleon had landed on March 1, 1815, and set out on his return to Paris, the army and the people rapidly gathering to his support. On the 30th he entered the Tuileries in a blaze of triumph, the citizens, thoroughly dissatisfied with their brief experience of Bourbon rule, going mad with enthusiasm in his welcome.

The Hundred Days

Thus began the famous period of the "Hundred Days." The Powers declared Napoleon to be the "enemy of nations," and armed a half million of men for his final overthrow. The fate of his desperate attempt was soon decided. For the first time he was to meet the British in battle, and in Wellington to encounter the only man who had definitely made head against his legions. A British army was dispatched in all haste to Belgium, Blucher with his Prussians hastened to the same region, and the mighty final struggle was at hand. The unrelenting enemies of the Corsican conqueror, the British islanders, were to be the agents of his overthrow.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


The little kingdom of Belgium was the scene of the momentous contest that brought Napoleon's marvelous career to an end. Thither he led his army, largely made up of new conscripts; and thither the English and the Prussians hastened to meet him. On June 16, 1815, the prelude to the great battle took place. Napoleon met Blucher at Ligny and defeated him; then, leaving Grouchy to pursue the Prussians, he turned against his island foes. On the same day Ney encountered the forces of Wellington at Quatre Bras, but failed to drive them back. On the 17th Wellington took a new position at Waterloo, and awaited there his great antagonist.

End of Napoleon's Career

June 18, 1815, was the crucial day in Napoleon's career, the one in which his power was to fall, never to rise again. The stupendous struggle, as Wellington himself described it, was "a battle of giants." Long the result wavered in the balance. All day long the British sustained the desperate assaults of their antagonists. Terrible was the contest, frightful the loss of life. Hour after hour passed, charge after charge was hurled by Napoleon against the British lines, which still closed up over the dead and stood firm; and it seemed as if night would fall with the two armies unflinchingly face to face, neither of them victor in the terrible fray.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


The arrival of Blucher with his Prussians turned the scale. To Napoleon's bitter disappointment Grouchy, who should have been close on the heels of the Prussians, failed to appear, and the weary and dejected French were left to face these fresh troops without support. Napoleon's Old Guard in vain flung itself into the gap, and the French nation long repeated in pride the saying attributed to the commander of this famous corps, "The guard dies, but it never surrenders."

In the end the French army broke and fled in disastrous rout, three-fourths of the whole force being left dead, wounded, or prisoners, while all its artillery became the prize of the victors. Napoleon, pale and confused, was led by Soult from the battlefield. It was his last fight. His abdication was demanded, and he resigned the crown in favor of his son. A hopeless and unnerved fugitive, he fled from Paris to Rochefort, hoping to escape to America. But the British fleet held that port, and in despair he went on board a vessel of the fleet, trusting himself to the honor of the British nation. But the statesmen of England had no sympathy with the vanquished adventurer, from whose ambition Europe had suffered so terribly. He was sent as a state prisoner to the island of St. Helena, there to end his days. His final hour of glory came in 1842, when his ashes were brought in pomp to Paris, where they found a final resting-place in the Hotel des Invalides.