Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XXI.

REMARKS ON THE FRENCH ARMY_ORIGIN OF THE CONSCRIPTION

ROBESPIERRE-FRENCH SOLDIERS-POLICY OF THE GENERALSMILITARY VANITY-BULLETINS-MODE OF ATTACK-RHENISH CONFEDERATION ACT OF IMPERIAL ABDICATION,

AS I gazed upon these men, whose appearance was slovenly, I was lost in amazement, by reflecting that they were part of that military force which had made itself terrible to so large a portion of Europe, which in its first organization was composed of men, many of whom had never had a musket in their hands, and commanded by generals who had never witnessed a military maneuvre; many of the most shining of whom had undergone an immediate transition from the most peaceful, and even the most subordinate occupations in life, to conduct armies to the field of battle, to confront and route some of the prime, veteran troops of nations, long renowned for their eminence and military character. Robespierre may be considered as having laid the foundation of all the military glory of France, and by the unexampled energy and prospective acuteness of his measures, to have accomplished a system by which France has achieved so many brilliant victories. No one but a

THE FRENCH ARMY.

375 tyrant, who to a sanguinary soul united profound penetration, could have accomplished what he did. He swept away in a deep and impetuous stream of blood the immediate branches of the royal family, the court, its valuable and its obnoxious appendages, and made a clear arena to act upon. In the name of Liberty he invoked those who were favorably disposed to her cause, and by terror he forced the reluctant to sustain the miseries and perils of a camp. Glory or the guillotine were eternally before the eyes of the republican commanders, who thus stimulated, never revolted at a profuse expenditure of life, por considered any victory dearly obtained, so that it was obtained : the soldiers were all young men, amongst many of whom high ardour and a passion for heroic enterprize, characteristic of that season of life, prevailed, which soon spread with electric influence upon the more considerate, prudent, and even timid part of the body. Thus impelled, they pushed on, and soon felt their enthusiasm redouble, upon beholding the brilliant impression which they made upon troops inured to war and led by distinguished commanders, who receded before them, from a conviction that they could only hope to repel the attack by an assimilation of tactics and a lavish waste of blood, a consideration which frequently forced the followers of the old school to meditate when they ought to have acted.

376

THE FRENCH ARMY. · It is a remark in frequent use, that the efficiency of an army may be measured by the skill of the general ; but the French soldiers have expanded the observation, and have exhibited the wonderful spectacle of skilful soldiers fighting under, and frequently enlarging the views and combinations of able generals. The animal organization of Frenchmen befits them for soldiers ; their supple muscular form and height seldom exceeding five feet five or six inches, admit of great activity of movement, and the support of great fatigue : their minds quick, volatile, inquisitive, and fertile in expedients, enable them to see the intentions of their commanding officers in a movement, which, to the soldiers of many other countries would only be known by results. The French commanders know how to gratify that national cast of intellect so useful to their operations, by frequently imparting to a soldier of a company, for the purpose of wider communication, the principal movements in contemplation previous to their engaging. The vanity of a French soldier is also another most valuable quality in his composition : he takes the deepest interest in the execution of every order, because he thoroughly believes that he is acquainted with all its objects ; and upon the achievement of a victory, there is scarcely a French drummer who would hesitate endeavoring to make his hearer believe, that the fortune of the day was owing to some judicious idea of his own: to this vanity the military

[blocks in formation]

bulletins which announce successes in all the pomp of language, or convert a disaster into a retrograde victory, are addressed; for a Frenchman, even more than an Englishman, almost always believes what he is told, and is ever the last to confess a defeat. It is a rule with the French officers to give their troops as little trouble as possible when not actually in service, and to keep thein perpetually upon the alert when the campaign has commenced ; by this measure their troops, contrary to a received opposite notion, are generally fresher than other troops; and as they are mostly composed of young men, are capable of marching more rapidly and longer than soldiers of mixed seasons of life. The French have another great advantage in their plan of combats, which resemble the mode of engaging at sea, practised :so gloriously by the late immortal Nelson, that of beating against the centre of an enemy's line until they penetrate it ; this they have several times successfully effected, by that almost endless reinforcement which the arbitrary levies furnish, and which in a moment supply the vacancy made by the bullet and the bayonet. To prevent any ill consequences from the impetuous temerity which might attend the first attack, a considerable corps of reserve is always formed of the more experienced troops, who are able to support their comrades in the front, when too severely pressed, or of forcing them to rally, should they discover any disposition to fly.

[blocks in formation]

To their flying artillery, which are served by their best soldiers, wherever the ground will best admit, they are also eminently indebted for their success : yet, with all those advantages, striking and eminent as they are, and the negative assistance which she derived from the frequently imbecile conduct of the enemy, France would perhaps never have been crowned with the success which has marked her march, had not her population been enormous, and had not the stupendous idea of placing a great portion of that population, by the novelty of a conscription, at the disposal of her ruler, been developed by the mighty monster * whose name I have before mentioned. If she had had twenty thousand men on the plains of Maida, she would have been spared the disgrace of seeing 7,000 of her chosen soldiers fly before 4,795 of the British arms under the gallant Stuart.

To comprehend the present political state of those cities on the right and left banks of the Rhine, which I visited in my way to the south of Germany, it is necessary to lay before the reader the following memorable document, and

*. For this sanguinary tyrant the following Epitaph was well penned.

Passant, ne pleure point son sort;
Car, s'il vivait, tu serais mort..

Ye who pass by his grave, need not weep that he's gone,
Had he liyd, ye would now be as cold as this stone...

« AnteriorContinuar »