Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

where every one fights blindly without recognising his eyemy, and without knowing on whose head his blows will fall. At this crisis, fully persuaded that his efforts to check the popular disturbances were useless, Count Wala, worn by fatigue and disappointment, resolved to return to a life of solitude and repose. In vain did Louis try to retain him; in vain Lothaire implored him to remain at his court; he tore himself from them, but not to return to Corbie. He may have feared lest the empress's hatred should follow him there; we cannot say what was his exact motive, but passing beneath the tower of Chillon, not as a prisoner this time, but as a refugee, he crossed the Alps and descended to the plains of Italy, once more to hide himself from the world within walls consecrated to religious exercises.

There was a monastery at Bobbio, sixteen leagues from Milan, founded two centuries previously by a man whose life, like Count Wala's, had been one of agitation and excitement. Like the Abbot of Corbie, Colomba had been forced to fly from the anger of a woman, and followed into Helvetia by the hatred of Brunehaut, he had traversed the Alps and sought out an asylum amongst some religious men, whom he had assembled under a common rule. Wala joined the successors of these men. Their monastery had suffered much in those turbulent times. The nobles of the vicinity had pillaged and ransomed it at pleasure. The monks gladly elected Wala as their abbot, and his name protected them from further attacks. He re-established the rules of the founder, and, like him, he seemed to have found a shelter for his old age. The pleasurable activity his office entailed upon him bid fair to make him grow young again, when a fresh call to mix once again in the quarrels of kings reached him in his peaceful home. Humbled by recent reverses, Lothaire, King of Italy, wished to be reconciled to his father. Whilst in this mood he implored Wala to repair to the emperor, to soften and make him agree to any reasonable terms. He expected this last mark of devotion from his old friend and follower. Might not Wala's life of rectitude be crowned by such a work of reconciliation. Men, according to the point from which they view life, form very different ideas of repose. Some seek it without, some within themselves, some accept it from God, some make it dependent on circumstances. To the new Abbot of Bobbio the law of duty was the road to peace, and thinking that he discovered in this fresh call of Lothaire an appeal to duty, he shook off the weight of years, and, gathering his strength, prepared for the journey.

He was once again surrounded by court life, and extreme deference and kindness marked his reception. The empress even was respectful and courteous to him. They were wearied with discord, and were ready to pardon everything and to facilitate negotiations. Lothaire had given him full power, and the terms of the agreement were soon drawn up. A Diet was to be convoked at Worms, at which the resolutions which had been taken were to be made public in the assembly of Franks. Happy at seeing success crowning his efforts, Wala departed full of joy for Italy. He longed to present himself before King Lothaire, and to obtain his assent to the agreements already drawn up. But this last hope of being the instrument of gaining peace for the empire was to be frustrated like all preceding ones. An epidemic raged on the farther side of the Alps; it was one of those malignant fevers which have usually been designated

in the middle ages as the plague. Wala had scarcely crossed the Alps, when he was seized by this malady. His age left him little strength to contend with the fever; he could only just reach Bobbio, and there breathe out his last sigh amongst the brotherhood. He did not fear the approach of death, but his last moments were troubled by a desire to accomplish his mission. He thought that, if he could not finish his work, disorder would assuredly burst forth again. He died, pursued with this last dream, and thought more of the empire and of Lothaire than of his own sufferings. He expired on the last day of August, in the year 836.

His remains were laid beside those of Colomba. Both were religious men, both refugees, and both were united in death.

Wala's biographer exclaims, in conclusion, “ Happy the man who, having regarded life as a trial, has remained staunch, for he will receive a crown of glory in heaven !"

AFTER THE BATTLE.

It is an old but never thoroughly recognised truth that man in no instance displays greater ingenuity than in the art of destroying human life, and that the most savage beasts of the forest and the desert in their most terrible contests with each other, or against weaker creatures, do not attain nearly such a pitch of ferocity and horror as has been seen during thousands of years in the human butcheries of the battle-fields of the most enlightened and moral nations. How often has it been said that the sight of a battle-field, with all its unmentionable horrors spread over it, must overcome the boldest ambition, the wildest craving for conquest, and the coldest contempt of human life, and at the same time arouse in the man who caused the war an unconquerable horror of any continuation or repetition; but history teaches us that the greatest commander of our age was not turned from his fiendish plans by the terrors that surrounded him in forms innumerable on his retreat from the snows of Russia, but was even able to brood over new campaigns amid the corpses of his recklessly destroyed soldiers.

We may think as unfavourably as we please about the exertions and dubious success of humanitarians after the pattern of Elihu Burritt, but still the description of a great båttle, and even more the description of a field after the battle, with all its consequences, cannot but arouse all our human feelings and render us disgusted with war. We felt this ourselves on perusing not long ago a very interesting work by J. Henri Dunant, called “ Un Souvenir de Solferino." The author was engaged in 1859 in a tour through Upper Italy, and arrived in the vicinity of Solferino at the time when the sanguinary battle that derives its name from that place was about to commence. He followed at a distance the frightful development of the drama, and at its close took a walk over the battlefield and its vicinity: what he saw and experienced there forms the contents of his volume. In our present article we only give a slight

sketch from it, which is far from being the most horrible of those contained in it, and yet we apprehend that this description will arouse sufficient sorrow and horror in every unhardened mind.

The first sunbeams of the 25th illumined one of the most frightful scenes that could be gazed upon. On all sides the battle-field was strewn with the corpses of men and horses : on the roads, in the ditches, streams, and bushes, on the meadows, dead men lay everywhere around, and the neighbourhood of Solferino was overcast with them in the literal sense of the term. The fields were desolated, corn and maize trampled down, the garden and field enclosures destroyed, the meadows ploughed up, and everywhere larger and smaller pools of blood were visible. The villages were deserted, and everywhere displayed traces of musketry, cannon-balls, rockets, and shells: the walls were torn down by balls which opened wide breaches, the houses were gutted, and the walls, shaken in their foundations, revealed wide rents; the inhabitants, who had been concealed for close on twenty hours, were beginning to leave the cellars one after the other in which they had shut themselves up without light and provisions ; their dazed appearance proved the terror they had been suffering from. In the neighbourhood of Solferino, and especially in the churchyard of that village, were piles of muskets, cartouche-boxes, gaiters, shakos, foraging-caps, kepis, belts; in a word, every variety of accoutrement, and among them were torn and bloodstained articles of clothing and broken weapons.

The unfortunate men who were picked up during the day were pale, with pinched features, and utterly exhausted : some, and especially those who were badly mutilated, looked on in apparent unconsciousness; they did not understand what was being said to them, their eyes were fixed on their saviours, but still they were not unsusceptible to their pain. Others were restless; their entire nervous system was shaken, and they quivered convulsively. Those with open wounds, in which gangrene had already set in, were raging with pain: they demanded an end to their sufferings by a quick death, and writhed in the last death-struggle with frightfully contracted features.

At other spots lay wretched beings who had not only been struck by bullets and splinters of shells, but whose limbs had also been crushed or cut off by the wheels of the guns that had been driven over them. The conical musket-balls split the bone in every direction, so that the wound caused by them was extremely dangerous, but the fragments of shell produced equally painful fractures and greater internal injuries. Splinters of every description, pieces of bone, bits of clothing, accoutrements or boots, earth and lumps of lead, rendered the wounds more dangerous through the inflammation they caused, and thus heightened the agony of the wounded men.

The man who walked over this extensive theatre of the previous day's action found at every step, and amid an incomparable confusion, inexpressible despair and wretchedness in all its forms.

The want of water constantly became more felt; the ditches were dried up, the troops had at the best only an uphealthy marshy fluid to quench their thirst, and sentries were stationed at every spot where there was a well with loaded muskets, because the water was to be reserved for the wounded. At Cavriana twenty thousand artillery and cavalry horses were watered for two days at a swamp that contained pestiferous water. Those riderless horses, which ran about the whole night wounded, now dragged themselves up to the groups of other horses, as if they wished to request assistance of them, and they were at times killed with a bullet. One of these noble animals, splendidly caparisoned, came up to a French detachment: the portmanteau, which was still securely fastened to the saddle, contained letters and other articles, proving that the horse belonged to the brave Prince von Isenburg. A search was made among the dead, and the Austrian prince was at length found among the dead bodies, wounded and senseless from loss of blood ; but the French surgeons succeeded, after great exertion, in recalling him to life, and he was able to return to his family, when the latter, as they had received no news of him, had already put on mourning.

On the faces of many of the dead soldiers an expression of peace was perceptible ; it was with those who fell dead at the first shot; but a great number bore traces of the death-struggle, with their stiff outstretched limbs, bodies covered with lead-coloured spots, their hands dug into the. ground, their moustaches standing up like a brush, and a dark smile playing round their lips and clenched teeth.

Three days and three nights were employed in burying the dead who lay on the field of battle;* but on this extensive plain many were hidden in the ditehes and furrows, or concealed by bushes and other irregularities of the ground, and could not be found till afterwards, and all these corpses, as well as the dead horses, had impregnated the atmosphere with poisonous exhalations. In the French army a certain number of men per company was told off to seek and bury the dead, and, as a rule, the men of the same corps did so for their comrades in arms: they recorded the number found on the effects of each slain man, and then, with the help of hired Lombardese peasants, laid the body, dressed as it was, in a common pit. Unhappily, it may be assumed that in the haste with which this operation was accomplished, and through the carelessness or callous neglect of these peasants, a living man was now and then interred with the dead. The orders, money, watches, letters, and documents found on the person of the officers were removed from the dead, and eventually sent to their families : but, with such a number of corpses as was buried here, it was not always possible to perform this duty faithfully.

A son, the darling of his parents, whom a tender mother had brought up and fostered through many years, and who had been terrified at his slightest attack of illness; a smart officer, beloved by his family, who had left wife and children at home; a young soldier, who had bidden adieu to his bride at home, and all these men who had a mother, sisters, or aged father at homewhere they now lay in the mud, in the dust, and bathed in their blood, their masculine handsome faces not to be recognised, for the enemy's bullets or sabre had not spared them: they suffered and died, and their bodies, so long the object of affectionate care, now blackened, swollen, and mutilated, were thrown just as they were into a hurriedly dug grave, only covered with a few shovelsful of lime and earth, and the

* Three weeks after the 24th of June, 1859, dead soldiers belonging to both armies were still found at different spots on the battle-field. The assertion that € 25th of Jane sufficed to carry away and place under shelter all the wounded,

is utterly false.

birds of prey will not spare their hands and feet when they peer out through the washing away of the mould. True, the workmen will come again to pile up the earth or erect a wooden cross, but that will be all !

The French hospital staff continued to have the wounded collected, and they were removed to the field lazarettos on mules, in litters, or on cacolets; thence they were transferred to the villages or hamlets nearest to the spot where they had fallen or had been found. In these villages temporary field hospitals had been made in the churches and convents, in the houses, on the public squares, in court-yards, in the streets and promenades, in short, at every convenient spot. In this way a great number of wounded were provided for at Carpenedolo, Castel Geffredo, Medoli, Guidizzolo, Volta, and all the surrounding villages, but the great majority was at Castiglione, whither the less severely wounded had already crawled on foot.

Thither proceeded a long train of vehicles belonging to the hospital staff, loaded with soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers of every grade, and in a strange medley of cavalry, infantry, and artillery ; they were all blood-stained, exhausted, ragged, and dusty; then came mules at a smart trot, whose restless movements drew shrieks of pain from the unfortunate sufferers at every step. One had a leg smashed, which seemed almost separated from the body, so that the slightest jolting of the waggon caused him fresh agony; another had his arm broken, and supported it with the other unbroken one; the stick of a Congreve rocket had passed through a corporal's arm, he drew it out himself, and using it as a crutch, attempted to crawl to Castiglione. Many of these wounded died on the road, and their corpses were laid by the side of the road, where they were ultimately buried.

From Castiglione the wounded were to be removed to the hospitals of Brescia, Cremona, Bergamo, and Milan, where they would find more regular attention, and amputations would be undertaken. As, however, the Austrians in their retreat had seized all the vehicles belonging to the country people, and the French means of transport were not equal to the number of wounded, they were obliged to wait two or three days before they could be carried to Castiglione, which place was already crowded. This whole town was metamorphosed into one spacious improvised hospital, both for French and Austrians ; during the Friday the headquarters lazaretto was prepared here, the lint cases were opened, and apparatus and surgical instruments were got in readiness ; the inhabitants readily gave up all the blankets, sheets, paillasses, and mattresses they could spare.

During the 25th, 26th, and 27th, the death-struggles and sufferings were awful. The wounds, rendered worse by the heat, dust, and want of water and attention, constantly grew more painful; mephitic exhalations poisoned the atmosphere, in spite of the laudable exertions of the hospital staff to keep the localities converted into lazarettos in good condition; the growing want of assistants, nurses, and servants grew every moment more evident, for the baggage-trains arriving at Castiglione brought fresh loads of wounded every quarter of an hour. However great was the activity displayed by a surgeon-major, and two or three other persons, who organised the regular transports to Brescia with carts drawn by oxen; however praiseworthy the zeal of the inhabitants of Brescia, who came

« AnteriorContinuar »