Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

thouse hearts in the here were shabby to

their own homes. His appearance, however, and the heartiness of his adherence to their cause, at once revived the sinking flame of their enthusiasm, and spread it through all the adjoining regione Before next evening, he found himself at the head of near ten. thousand devoted followers—without arms or discipline indeed, but with hearts in the trim-and ready to follow wherever he would venture to lead. There were only about two hundred firelocks in the whole array, and these were shabby fowling-pieces, without bayonets. The rest were equipped with scythes, or blades of knives stuck upon poles--with spits, or with good heavy cudgels of knotty wood. In presenting himself to this romantic army, their youthful leader made the following truly eloquent and characteristic speech.—“My good friends, if my father were here to lead you, we should all proceed; with greater confidence. For my part, I know I am but a child, but I hope I have courage enough not to be quite unworthy of supplying his place to you. Follow me when I advance against the enemykill me when I turn my back upon them—and revenge me, if they bring me down !” That very day he led them into action. A strong post of the republicans was stationed at Aubiers :-Henri, with a dozen or two of his best marksmen, glided silently behind the hedge which surrounded the field in which they were, and immediately began to fire, some of the unarmed peasants handing forward loaded muskets to them in quick succession. He himself fired near two hundred shots that day, and a gamekeeper, who stood beside him, almost as many. The soldiers, though at first astonished at this assault from an invisible enemy, soon collected themselves, and made a movement to gain a small height that was near. Henri chose this moment to make a general assault, and, calling out to his men that they were running, burst through the hedge at their head, and threw them instantly into flight and irretrievable confusion, got possession of their guns and stores, and pursued them to within a few miles of the walls of Bressiure. Such, almost universally, was the tactic of those formidable insurgents. Their whole art of war consisted in creeping round the hedges which separated them from their enemies, and firing there till they began to waver or move-and then rushing forward with shouts and impetuosity, but without any regard to order; possessing themselves first of the artillery, and rushing into the heart, of their opponents with prodigious fierceness and activity. In these

assaults they seldom lost so much as one man for every five that fell of the regulars. They were scarcely ever discovered soon enough to suffer from the musketry, and seldom gave the artillery an oppor tunity of firing more than once. When they saw the flash of the pieces, they instantly threw themselves flat on the ground till the shot flew over, then started up, and rushed on the gunners before they could reload. If they were finally repulsed, they retreated and dispersed with the same magical rapidity, darting through the hedges, and scattering among the defiles in a way that eluded all pursuit, and exposed those who attempted it to murderous ambuscades at every turning.

As soon as it was known that M. de Lescure had declared for the white cockade, forty parishes assumed that badge of hostility; and he and his cousin found themselves at the head of near twenty thousand men. The day after, they brought eighty horsemen to the château. These gallant knights, however, were not very gorgeously caparisoned. Their steeds were of all sizes and colours, many of them with packs instead of saddles, and loops of rope for stirrups-pistols and sabres of all shapes, tied on with cords - white or black cockades in their hats—and. tricoloured ones—with bits of epaulettes taken from the vanquished republicans, dangling in ridicule at the tails of their horses. Such as they were, however, they filled the château with tumult and exultation, and frightened the hearts out of some unhappy republicans, who came to look after their wives who had taken refuge in that asylum. They did them no other harm, however, than compelling them to spit on their tricoloured cockades, and to call Vive le Roi! which the poor people, being “ des gens honnêtes et paisibles,” very readily performed.

In the afternoon, Madame de L., with a troop of her triumphant attendants, paid a visit to her late prison, at Bressiure. The place was now occupied by near twenty thousand insurgents, all as remarkable, she assures us, for their simple piety and the innocence and purity of their morals, as for the valour and enthusiasm which had banded them together. Even in a town so obnoxious as this had become, from the massacre of the prisoners, there were no executions, and no pillage. Some of the men were expressing a great desire for some tobacco, and, upon being asked whether there was none in the

place, answered, quite simply, that there was plenty, but they had no money to buy it.

274.-THE WAR IN LA VENDÉE.

PART II, In giving a short view of the whole insurgent force, which she estimates at about 80,000 men, Madame de L. here introduces a short account of its principal leaders, whose characters are drawn with a delicate, though probably too favourable hand. M. de Elbée, M. de Bonchamp, and M. de Marigny were almost the only ones who had formerly exercised the profession of arms, and were therefore invested with the formal command. Stofflet, a native of Alsace, had formerly served in a Swiss regiment, but had long been a gamekeeper in Poitou. Of Cathelineau we have spoken already. Henri de Larochejaquelein and M. de Lescure were undoubtedly the most popular and important members of the association, and are painted with the greatest liveliness. and discrimination. The former, tall, fair, and graceful, with a shy, affectionate, and indolent manner in private life, had, in the field, all the gaiety, animation, and love of adventure, that he used to display in the chase. Utterly indifferent to danger, and ignorant of the very name of fear, his great faults as a leader were rashness in attack, and undue exposure of his person. He knew little, and cared less, for the scientific details of war, and could not always maintain the gravity that was required in the councils of the leaders. Sometimes, after bluntly giving his opinion, he would quietly lay himself to sleep till the end of the deliberations, and, when reproached with this neglect of his higher duties, would answer, “What business had they to make me a general ?— I would much rather have been a private light-horseman, and taken the sport as it came." With all this light-heartedạess, however, he was full not only of kindness to his soldiers, but of compassion for his prisoners. He would sometimes offer, indeed, to fight them fairly hand to hand, before accepting their surrender, but never refused to give quarter, nor ever treated them with insult or severity,

M. de Lescure was in many respects of an opposite character. His courage, though of the most heroic temper, was invariably united with perfect coolness and deliberation. He had a great theoretical know, ledge of war, having diligently studied all that was written on the subject, and was the only man in the party who knew any thing of fortification. His temper was unalterably sweet and placid; and his neverfailing humanity, in the tremendous scenes he had to pass through, had something in it of an angelical character, Though constantly engaged at the head of his troops, and often leading them on to the assault, he could never persuade himself to take the life of a fellow, creature with his own band, or to show the smallest severity to his captives. One day a soldier, who he thought had surrendered, fired at him, almost at the muzzle of his piece. He put aside the musket with his sword, and said, with perfect composure, " Take that prisoner to the rear.” His attendants, enraged at the perfidy of the assault, cut him down behind his back. He turned round at the poise, and flew into the most violent passion in which he had ever been seen. This was the only time in his life in which he was known to utter an oath. There was no spirit of vengeance in short in his nature; and he frequently saved more lives after a battle than had been lost in the course of it.

The discipline of the army, thus commanded, has been already spoken of. It was never even divided into regiments or companies. When the chiefs had agreed on a plan of operations, they announced to their followers-M. Lescure goes to take such a bridge--who will follow him ? M. Marigny keeps the passes in such a valley--who will go with him ?-and so on. They were never told to march to the right or to the left, but to that tree or to that steeple. They were generally very ill supplied with ammunition, and were often obliged to attack a post of artillery with cudgels. On one occasion, while rushing on for this purpose, they suddenly discovered a huge crucifix in a recess of the woods on their flank, and immediately every man of them stopped short, and knelt quietly down, under the fire of the enemy, They then got up, ran right forward, and took the cannon. They had tolerable medical assistance, and found admirable nurses for the wounded in the nunneries and other religious establishments that existed in all the considerable towns.

Their first enterprise, after the capture of Bressiure, was against Thouars. To get at this place, à considerable river was to be crossed. M. de Lescure headed a party that was to force the passage of a bridge ; but, when he came within the heavy fire of its defenders, all his peasants fell back, and left him for some minutes alone. His clothes were torn by the bullets, but not a shot took effect on his person ; He returned to the charge again with Henri de Larochejaquelein :Their followers, all but two, again left them at the moment of charging. But the enemy, scared at their audacity, had already taken flight; the bridge was carried by these four men, and the town was given up after a short struggle, though not before Henri had climbed alone to the top of the wall by the help of a friend's shoulders, and thrown several stones at the flying inhabitants within. The republican general, Quetineau, who had defended himself with great valour, obtained honourable terms in this capitulation, and was treated with the greatest kindness by the insurgent chiefs. He had commanded at Bressiure when it was finally abandoned, and told M. Lescure, when he was brought before him, that he saw the closed window-shutters of his family well enough as he marched out; and that it was not out of forgetfulness that he had left them unmolested. M. Lescure expressed his gratitude for his generosity, and pressed him to remain with them. “ You do not agree in our opinions, I know ;-and I do not ask you to take any share in our proceedings. You shall be a prisoner at large among us : but, if you go back to the republicans, they will say you gave up the place out of treachery, and you will be rewarded by the executioner for the gallant defence you have made.” The captain answered in terms equally firm and spirited. “I must do my duty at all hazards. I should be dishonest if I remained voluntarily among enemies; and I am ready to answer for all I have hitherto done." It will surprise some violent royalists among ourselves, we believe, to find that this frankness and fidelity to his party secured for him the friendship and esteem of all the Vendean leaders. The peasants, indeed, felt a little more like the liberal persons just alluded to. They were not a little scandalized to find a republican treated with respect and courtesy, and, above all, were in horror when they saw him admitted into the private society of their chiefs, and discovered that M. de Bonchamp actually trusted himself in the same chamber with him at night! For the first two or three nights, indeed, several of them kept watch at the outside of the door, to defend him against the assassination they appre

« AnteriorContinuar »