Category Archives: Napoleonic Wars


Robert Mack: “The Battle of Marengo, by Bonaparte”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

Had Napoleon lost the battle of Marengo, it is safe to say he never would have worn the crown of France.  A return to Paris, defeated in Italy, meant for him a forced retirement from the head of National affairs and the substitution of Carnot, or some other sturdy republican in his place.  With such a change, at that time, Waterloo, in all human probability would never have been fought, and “Napoleon at St. Helena” would never have become history.

The escape was a narrow one.  In the space of half an hour, what appeared to be a crushing defeat was turned into a glorious victory.  To Desaix’s opportune arrival upon the field and to Kellerman’s masterly cavalry charge, a great share of the glory of that day is due.  The victory won was decisive and the campaign ended, with the close of the battle.  Within two months after leaving Paris, Napoleon returned – again the savior of France.

The campaign of 1800 will ever be recorded as one of the most brilliant achievements in history, and the one which bore the mightiest results to the man who planned and carried it out to a successful issue.

marengo

Battaile de Marengo

by Louis Francois Lejeune

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The Battle of Marengo

By Napoleon

 

From flattering crowds, and laurel crowns,

To muse in thought profound,

An evening’s hour I sometimes seize,

And sigh beneath the Western breeze,

Which o’er these torn demolish’d trees,

Floats awfully around.

My friend, how mournful are these plains;

How deep the solemn silence reigns,

Where nature lately smil’d!

Yonder where tulips blooming stood,

And roses blush’d around;

Gaunt mastiffs gorge, on lapper’d blood,

All around for miles, tremendous ruin’s spread!

By whom? You’ll cry:

Heaven, I reply.

Melas and I.

Were but the instruments, by whom whole nations bled!

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Friend L, to you, on trembling wing,

The muse in shudd’ring tones shall sing,

Thalia’s self shall tell;

Shall paint that bloody scene, that dreadful sight,

Which stopp’d the songs in heaven, and turn’d the day to night,

And made a pause in hell!

Seraphs, from heaven’s high battlements,

Look’d down, and dropp’d a tear.

Wrap’d round with smoke, form’d gloom, the sun

Gleam’d with a blacken’d red!

While devils, thinking time was done,

That God, to finish had begun,

And the last hour at last was come,

Darted from earth, swift to their home,

And hid in hell for fear!

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When from the slumbers of the night,

At morning light I rose,

Seem’d kindling to a flame;

Impell’d by heaven, my horse I sprung,

And bounded to the plain.

Then what a sight my wondering eyes beheld!

Austria’s lesions tow’ring o’er the field!

Compact and strong,

The dreadful throng,

Mov’d firmly on;

As if to force the Gaulic lines, or storm the gates of Death!

If that’s your mind, exclaim’d my soul,

Hungary’s passing bell may toll,

For here in blood your chiefs shall roll,

And pant away their breath.

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Along Bormida’s broken hills,

Between the river and the north,

To keep our foes from marching forth,

Our army held its posts;

The spacious plain, that lay between

Those hills and deep Bormida’s stream,

Roar’d with the Austrian hosts.

One noble pass, nature had here supplied;

A smooth defile some hundred paces wide.

At all these posts our lines were thin,

For brave Desaix, with half the men,

Lay in reserve behind.

But seeing now, the hour was come,

When all was lost and all was won,

I cried, “Let swiftest couriers run,

And all our powers be joined.”

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Meantime, the Austrian phalanx form’d

In terrible array;

Proud Melas, in refulgent arms,

Rides through his host, their courage warms,

And cries “Behold the day:

Behold the day, by Heaven design’d,

To crush th’ oppressors of mankind!

Be men this day, and down the tyrant’s hurl’d.

This day, the Corsican comes down;

This day we ransom Capet’s Crown,

And peace restore unto a bleeding world!”

This said, to eighty thousand men,

The bloody word was given;

Whose dread reply embowell’d air,

Shook earth, and enter’d heaven!

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In haste, through Gallia’s lines I rode,

Along the dreadful van!

With military grandeur swell’d,

I scarcely felt as man!

To ardent warriors, loud I cried:

“Ye sons of France, ye heroes tried

Beneath the burning sun,

Who thrice have thunder’d down the Alps,

And Italy o’errun:

Ye shakers of Vienna’s wall!

To you, your former glory calls:

I’m too immense for faith, without renewed proof.

In thunder, then, convince the world,

Your standard over conquer’d Nile unfurl’d,

That mighty Charles and Wurmser overthrown,

Those proud defenders of a tyrant’s throne,

And Joseph hiring carts, to move his home,

Were but the opening wonders of your youth.”

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On this, the horrid scene began,

And the dread tempest fell:

Twas then, Marengo’s thunders roar’d,

Down to the gates of hell!

For three long hours, the flame, the roar,

The dying screams, the streams of gore,

Waited on death, triumphing o’er

The undecided field.

At length o’er Austria’s Eagles victory hung,

My unsupported legions were o’ercome –

And all the chance, seem’d now from France,

Either to die, or yield.

This helpless situation, flow’d

From my mistake alone;

For when I bid the trumpets sound,

I thought Desaix was  near;

When O, alas! Almost too late I found,

His legions lay full three leagues in the rear!

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Of all the dreadful hours I’ve seen,

Pregnant with nations’ fates,

The muse yet never witness’d one,

Like that she now relates?

On either hand, our wings were turn’d;

The centre only, stood;

Guarding the dread defile, which roll’d

With rivulets of blood!

Upon the right, a strange tremendous sound

Was heard, like thousands in despair:

Each, in a panic scream.

Not quite, but half, by thund’ring cannons drown’d,

It died away, along Bormida’s stream,

Like the dire wailings of the unhappy dead,

A sinking down to worlds unknown,

With terror, and with dread!

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Had Melas one decisive charge

Made through the hollow way,

Scarce heaven itself, could have retriev’d

The fortunes of the day.

But thinking all our powers were join’d,

Restrained by heaven or fear;

He sent his forces three miles round,

To take us in the rear.

Not knowing, all that stopp’d his progress then

Was barely just six thousand weary men!

On whom for fear, lest we should charge,

He made his cannon roar—

Vomiting death amongst our ranks,

Till down, around their gasping dead;

Flaoted the Gaulic gore!

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‘Twas in this dreadful hour, I rose

Above my former fame;

From friends, obtesting heaven, I would retire;

I broke, and brav’d the whole Austrian fire,

Across the bleeding plain.

From rank to rank, on every side I flew,

Serenely calm; “My friends,” I cried,

“Desaix is just in view.”

The bosom of the earth was tore

Beneath my courser’s feet –

Whole platoons dropp’d, amidst their gore –

The shiver’d trees, in fragments fell around,

And join’d the cumbrous carnage of the ground:

While horrid devastation rag’d  along,

And ruin seem’d complete!

At length like showers, to sun-burst flowers,

The great deliverers came;

Raging they broke, through fire and smoke,

And hillocks of the slain!

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Transported at the long wished aid,

My daring plans were in a moment laid.

The troops, I in a solid column form’d;

Resolv’d to send, down to the world beneath,

Thousands, to tell the Austrian lines were storm’d,

Or Bonaparte had resign’d his breath!

But one half hour, these grand arrangements took;

During which time, disgorging flame,

Red globes, and death, across the plain,

One hundred cannons, roar’d amain;

Till heaven and earth resounding run –

With the dire clamour shook!

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At length, prepar’d, the bleeding front,

To right and left I wheel’d;

And bade the column, form’d behind,

Rush thund’ring to the field.

The horrid pas de charge, at once was given,

Its tones re-murmur’d from the vault of heaven;

While like tremendous rolling flames,

By raging tempests driven,

The column in a torrent pour’d

On the Austrian host;

O’er bellowing cannons, and the dead;

O’er those that fought, and those that fled;

Like Aetna’s burning lava red,

Roaring, resistless, down it spread;

With bayonets plunge, down to Pluto’s dreary coasts

Thousands , who are now wandering there,

Pale, melancholy ghosts!

Thus ended this tremendous day

Of terrible renown;

‘T was thus, I snatch’d bright victorious prize,

Perhaps, the Imperial Crown,

But while we triumph, tears should pour,

For brave Desaix is gone:

As down upon the foes he bore,

Leading the van, thund’ring before,

Fate flew, and down amidst the gore,

He fell without a groan!

Hem’d round with glory, lo! He dies;

And worlds must do the same!

Even then, o’er nature’s smoking wreck,

Deathless, shall live the grandeur of his name,

Borne on Marengo’s dreadful sound

To everlasting fame.

LargeDeathofDesaixatMarengobyBroc.

Death of General Desaix

Jean Broc

Anna Letitia Barbauld: “Corsica”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

CORSICA

The island of Corsica is situated in the Mediterranean sea, about one hundred miles from the coast of France, and almost directly south of Genoa and west of Rome. The village of Ajaccio is on the western coast of the island, and it was there, on the fifteenth day of August, 1769, that Napoleon Bonaparte, the son of Charles Bonaparte and Letitia Ramolino, was born.

Of thirteen children born to these parents, eight survived, of whom, as matter of age. Napoleon was second ; but who, in reality, from early manhood was the recognized head of the family. Charles Bonaparte died when Napoleon was sixteen years old, and it was to his mother that the future Emperor was indebted for that strength of character and brilliancy of intellect which enabled him, alone and unaided, within the short space of less than twenty years, to transform himself from a poor unknown Corsican sub-lieutenant into the greatest character of ancient or modern history. Perhaps some of the qualities which went to make up this most remarkable man may be attributed to his birthplace, rugged Corsica, so well pictured in the following lines:

CORSICA

How raptured fancy burns, while warm in thought

I trace the pictured landscape ; while I kiss

With pilgrim lips devout the sacred soil

Stained with the blood of heroes. Cyrnus, hail!

Hail to thy rocky, deep indented shores,

And pointed cliffs, which hear the chafing deep

Incessant foaming round thy shaggy sides.

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Hail to thy winding bays, thy sheltering ports,

And ample harbours, which inviting stretch

Their hospitable arms to every sail:

Thy numerous streams, that bursting from the cliffs

Down the steep channelled rock impetuous pour

With grateful murmur : on the fearful edge

Of the rude precipice, thy hamlets brown

And straw-roofed cots, which from the level vale

Scarce seen, amongst the craggy hanging cliffs

Seem like an eagle’s nest aerial built.

 .

Thy swelling mountains, brown with solemn shade

Of various trees, that wave their giant arms

O’er the rough sons of freedom ; lofty pines,

And hardy fir, and ilex ever green,

And spreading chestnut, with each humbler plant.

And shrub of fragrant leaf, that clothes their sides.

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With living verdure; whence the clustering bee

Extracts her golden dews : the shining box

And sweet-leaved myrtle, aromatic thyme,

The prickly juniper, and the green leaf

Which feeds the spinning worm ; while glowing bright

Beneath the various foliage, wildly spreads

The arbutus, and rears his scarlet fruit

Luxuriant, mantling o’er the craggy steeps ;

And thy own native laurel crowns the scene.

 .

Hail to thy savage forests, awful, deep ;

Thy tangled thickets, and thy crowded woods,

The haunt of herds untamed ; which sullen bound

From rock to rock with fierce, unsocial air,

And wilder gaze, as conscious of the power

That loves to reign amid the lonely scenes

Of unequalled nature ; precipices huge.

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And tumbling torrents ; trackless deserts, plains

Fenced in with guardian rocks, whose quarries teem

With shining steel, that to the cultured fields

And sunny hills which wave with bearded grain,

Defends their homely produce.

Young Napoleon at Le Grotte du Casone

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Liberty,

The mountain goddess, loves to range at large

Amid such scenes, and on the iron soil

Prints her majestic step. For these she scorns

The green enamelled vales, the velvet lap

Of smooth savannahs, where the pillowed head

Of luxury reposes ; balmy gales,

And bowers that breathe of bliss.

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For these, when first

This isle, emerging like a beauteous gem

From the dark bosom of the Tyrrhene main.

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Reared its fair front, she marked it for her own.

And with her spirit warmed. Her genuine sons,

A broken remnant, from the generous stock

Of ancient Greece, from Sparta’s sad remains.

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True to their high descent, preserved unquenched

The sacred fire through many a barbarous age;

Whom nor the iron rod of cruel Carthage,

Nor the dread sceptre of imperial Rome,

Nor bloody Goth, nor grisly Saracen,

Nor the long galling yoke of proud Liguria,

Could crush into subjection.

 .

Still unquelled

They rose superior, bursting from their chains.

And claimed man’s dearest birthright, liberty :

And long, through many a hard unequal strife

Maintained the glorious conflict ; long withstood,

With single arm, the whole collected force

Of haughty Genoa and ambitious Gaul.

Ferdinand Freiligrath: “The Hussar Horse”

Excerpt, “Poems from the German of Ferdinand Freiligrath.” Edited by his daughter. Kate Freiligrath. Leipzig: 1871.

Lord Byron: “The Star of The Legion of Honour”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

The only peace agreed to between France and England during the Napoleonic wars was that known as the “Peace of Amiens,” which lasted from March, 1802, until May, 1803. During the existence of that peace the whole world, as it were, rushed to Paris, to catch a glimpse of the man who had wrought such mighty changes in so short a time. The obscure Corsican had become the greatest man of the times. Emperor of France, in all but name, his Court began to take on all the trappings and ceremonies of royalty. Holding the reins of power absolutely within the grasp of his own hands, he tolerated no interference, either by his colleagues or by the people.

In peace, as in war, he rested not, but laboured incessantly for the advancement of his country, whose needs he seemed to comprehend fully. Society was reorganised for the better; judicial reforms were perfected, and the Code pushed forward towards completion; the educational system of the nation was thoroughly revised and improved; the relations between church and state were settled by the signing of the Concordat in the spring of 1802: the finances were brought up to a flourishing condition; magnificent roads and bridges were built; everything, in fact, that could enhance the greatness and glory of France was thought of and carried out by this tireless mind.

It was at this time the Legion of Honour was established.

a-depiction-of-napoleon-making-some-of-the-first-awards-of-the-legion-of-honour-at-a-camp-near-boulogne-on-16-august-1804

Premiere ‘Légion d’honneur’ by Charles Étienne Pierre Motte

A depiction of Napoleon making some of the first awards of the Legion of Honour, at a camp near Boulogne on 16 August 1804

How many a gallant soldier rushed to his death in hopes of winning a place in that legion, and how many a dying hero was made happy by being presented with its badge before he answered the last roll-call. When the “Star” no longer led the Legion on to victory, Byron gave us the following lines.

on-the-star-of-the-legion-of-honour

chevalier_legion_dhonneur_2

Chevalier Légion d’honneur

Friedrich Freiherr de la Motte Fouqué: “War-Song for the Chasseur Volunteers”

Excerpt, “The Book of German Songs from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century.” Translated and Edited by H. W. Dulcken. 1856.

chasseur2

WAR-SONG FOR THE CHASSEUR VOLUNTEERS

1813

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Up, up, to the merry hunting,

For now the time draws on ;

The strife will quickly follow,

The day begins to dawn.

Up, pass them by, the idle,

And leave them to their rest;

But we will stir us gladly

At our good king’s behest.

.

Our monarch he has spoken,

” Where are my huntsmen true ? “

And we have all arisen,

A gallant work to do.

We will build up a safety

For all our fatherland;

With fervent trust in Heaven,

With strong enduring hand !

.

Sleep calmly now, ye loved ones,

Around our father’s hearth.

While ‘gainst the foeman’s weapons

We boldly issue forth.

O happiness, our dear ones

From danger to defend ;

Let cannon flash—true courage

Will triumph in the end !

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Some will be home returning

In victory, ere long,

And then will be rejoicing,

And joyful triumph song.

With strength and glad emotion

How ev’ry heart will burn.—

Who falls, a heavenly kingdom

For this on earth shall earn !

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Afoot, or on our war-steeds.

To the red field will we.

Our God will show us favour;

He greets us graciously.

Ye huntsmen, all and each one.

Charge hotly on the foe ;

While fires of joy are burning,

While yet life’s sun doth glow!

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Victor Hugo: “The Retreat From Moscow”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

121210_PAN_Napoleon1812.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

THE RETREAT FROM MOSCOW.

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It snowed. A defeat was our conquest red !

For once the Eagle was hanging its head.

Sad days! the Emperor turned slowly his back

On smoking Moscow, blent orange and black.

The winter burst, avalanche-like, to reign

Over the endless blanched sheet of the plain.

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Nor chief, nor banner in order could keep.

The wolves of warfare were ‘wildered like sheep.

The wings from centre could hardly be known

Through snow o’er horses and carts o’erthrown,

Where froze the wounded. In the bivouacs forlorn

Strange sights and gruesome met the breaking morn :

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Mute were the bugles, while the men bestrode

Steeds turned to marble, unheeding the goad.

The shells and bullets came down with the snow

As though the heavens hated these poor troops below.

Surprised at trembling, though it was with cold.

Who ne’er had trembled out of fear, the veterans bold

Marched stern ; to grizzled moustache hoar-frost clung

‘Neath banners that in leaden masses hung.

It snowed, went snowing still. And chill the breeze

Whistled upon the glassy, endless seas,

Where naked feet on, on for ever went,

With naught to eat, and not a sheltering tent.

retreat-the-retreat-from-russia

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They were not living troops as seen in war,

But merely phantoms of a dream, afar

In darkness wandering, amid the vapour dim—

A mystery ; of shadows a procession grim,

Nearing a blackening sky, into its rim.

Frightful, since boundless, solitude behold

Where only Nemesis wove, mute and cold,

A net all snowy with its soft meshes dense,

A shroud of magnitude for host immense ;

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Till every one felt as if left alone

In a wide wilderness where no light shone,

To die, with pity none, and none to see

That from this mournful realm none should get free.

Their foes the frozen North and Czar—That, worse.

Cannons were broken up in haste accurst

To burn the frames and make the pale fire high,

Where those lay down who never woke, or woke to die.

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Sad and commingled, groups that blindly fled

Were swallowed smoothly by the desert dread.

‘Neath folds of blankness, monuments were raised

O’er regiments. And History, amazed,

Could not record the ruin of this retreat,

Unlike a downfall known before the defeat

Of Hannibal—reversed and wrapped in gloom!

Of Attila, when nations met their doom !

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Perished an army—fled French glory then.

Though there the Emperor ! he stood and gazed

At the wild havoc, like a monarch dazed

In woodland hoar, who felt the shrieking saw

He, living oak, beheld his branches fall, with awe.

Chiefs, soldiers, comrades died. But still warm love

Kept those that rose all dastard fear above.

.

As on his tent they saw his shadow pass—

Backwards and forwards, for they credited, alas !

His fortune’s star! it could not, could not be

That he had not his work to do—a destiny ?

To hurl him headlong from his high estate,

Would be high treason in his bondman. Fate,

But all the while he felt himself alone,

Stunned with disasters few have ever known.

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Sudden, a fear came o’er his troubled soul.

What more was written on the Future’s scroll ?

Was this an expiation ? It must be, yea !

Returned to God for one enlightening ray.

” Is this the vengeance, Lord of Hosts? ” he sighed,

But the first murmur on his parched lips died.

” Is this the vengeance ? Must my glory set”

A pause : his name was called ; of flame a jet

Sprang in the darkness—a Voice

answered: “No! Not yet.”

Outside still fell the smothering snow.

Was it a voice indeed ? or but a dream !

It was the vulture’s, but how like the sea-bird’s scream.

Ernst Schulze: “Schwarze Jäger“

Excerpt, “Poets and Poetry of Germany, Biographical and Critical Notices.” Madame Davesies de Pontes. Vol. II. London: 1858.

Luetzows_verwegene_jagd_aquarellreproduktion_1900

The Black Hunters

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What is gleaming so gaily on bush and on brae,

What is shining in green-wood so bright,

Who comes forth from the wood in such gallant array,

Who are rushing from mountain and height?

’Tis the Jäger! On, on in a torrent we flow,

And rush to the combat and pounce on the foe

To battle, to vict’ry—to triumph we go!

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We come from the Hartz and its forests so old,

Full, they tell us, of glittering store;

But what do we care or for silver or gold?

Give us freedom! We ask for no more!

To others we leave it—more nobly we feel;

We don our bright armour, our cuirass of steel;

For us upon earth the sword only has worth,

And we care for nought save our fatherland’s weal!

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To drink and to love and be loved has its charms;

In the shade it is pleasant to dream;

But nobler to rush ’mid the battles alarms,

When the sword and the bayonet gleam.

Love’s torch is not brighter than glory’s proud hue,

And where thousands are sleeping why we may sleep too.

As heroes we’ll fall! ’neath the sword or the ball,

And pour forth our hearts-blood so gallant and true.

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Full oft in the darkness, in forest and glen,

Or high on the storm-beaten rock,

We have linger’d to track the fierce wolf to den

Nor dreaded the hurricane’s shock.

And now the bright sunshine is steaming above us;

We go to defend all we love! All who love us!

Be it battle or chase—in the enemy’s face—

To us it is one; for no peril can move us!

 

 

Songs of the Liberation War: “Was Blasen Die Trompeten”

Excerpt, “War Songs of the Germans with Historical Illustrations of the Liberation War and the Rhine Boundary.” By John Stuart Blackie. Edinburgh: 1870.

Marschall Vorwärts by Emil Hünten (1863).

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt

Marschall Vorwärts by Emil Hünten

 

WAS BLASEN DIE TROMPETEN

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Why blare loud the trumpets? To horse, ye hussars!

’Tis the gallant old field-marshal that rides to the wars!

So cheerily rides he his own good steed,

So brightly his sword flashes time to his speed;

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

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O see how his blue eye, so clear and so kind,

Is beaming, and wave his white locks to the wind!

Like a stout old wine, so mellow and so fine,

O he’s the man to marshal the sons of the Rhine!

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

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O he is the man, when all was dark and dim,

Who waved his sword in Heaven’s eye—’twas all bright to him!

He swore by his true steel to teach them yet aright—

He swore an angry oath-how the Germans can fight.

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

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His good oath he kept: When the war-cry rang,

On his horse, with a bound, bold Blücher sprang;

And his clear blue eye shot fire to wash the shame

Of Auerstadt and Jena from the German name.

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

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At Lützen; impatient, he headed the van,

Like a strong young lion, the old veteran:

There the Teut first taught the hot Frenchman to bleed,

By the altar of freedom, the stone of the Swede.

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

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The Katzbach was red with the fierce drifting rain,

But eve saw it redder with the blood of the slain!

‘Fare-thee-well, fare-thee-well! And fairly may’st thou sail,

And find a grave, false Frantzmann, with the Baltic whale.’

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

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Then forward, my brave boys, begun’s half done:

We’ll teach the nimble Corsican to run, boys, run!

O’er the Elbe, o’er the Elbe, now Preuss and Swede advance,

And the fleet Don Cossack with his long, long lance!

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

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On the red field of Leipzig he laid the French pride low;

He blew the blast of freedom loud at Leipzig, Oho!

They fell, there they fell, ne’er to rise from their fall;

And we cheered old Blücher there—

Long live the Field-marshal!

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

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Then blow loud, yet trumpets, and tramp, ye hussars!

’Tis our old Field-marshal that rides to the wars:

To the Rhine, to the Rhine, and beyond the Rhine’s the way,

Thou doughty old Field-marshal, God be with thee aye!

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

Gebhard_Leberecht_von_Blücher_in_Bautzen_1813

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher in Bautzen 1813

 

George Croly: “The French Army in Russia”

“A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

Napoleon_near_BorodinoNapoleon Near Borodino

 

THE FRENCH ARMY IN RUSSIA

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Magnificence of ruin ! what has time

In all it ever gazed upon of war,

Of the wild rage of storm, or deadly clime,

Seen, with that battle’s vengeance to compare ?

How glorious shone the invader’s pomp afar!

Like pampered lions from the spoil they came ;

The land before them silence and despair.

The land behind them massacre and flame ;

Blood will have tenfold blood. What are they now?

A name.

Smolensk_by_hessBattle of Smolensk

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Homeward by hundred thousands, column-deep,

Broad square, loose squadron, rolling like the flood.

When mighty torrents from their channels leap,

Rushed through the land the haughty multitude,

Billow on endless billow ; on through wood,

O’er rugged hill, down sunless, marshy vale,

The death-devoted moved, to clangour rude

Of drum and horn, and dissonant clash of mail,

Glancing disastrous light before that sunbeam pale.

Battle-of-BorodinoBattle of Borodino

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Again they reached thee, Borodino ! still

Upon the loaded soil the carnage lay,

The human harvest, now stark, stiff, and chill,

Friend, foe, stretched thick together, clay to clay ;

In vain the startled legions burst away ;

The land was all one naked sepulchre;

The shrinking eye still glanced on grim decay,

Still did the hoof and wheel their passage tear.

Through cloven helms and arms, and corpses

Mouldering drear.

Battle of MaloyaroslavetsBattle of Maloyaroslavets

The field was as they left it ; fosse and fort

Steaming with slaughter still, but desolate ;

The cannon flung dismantled by its port ;

Each knew the mound, the black ravine whose strait

Was won and lost,, and thronged with dead, till fate

Had fixed upon the victor,—half undone.

There was the hill, from which their eyes elate

Had seen the burst of Moscow’s golden zone ;

But death was at their heels, they shuddered and rushed on.

French_dragoons_Polish_uhlans_Russian_infantry_1812

The hour of vengeance strikes. Hark to the gale !

As it bursts hollow through the rolling clouds.

That from the north in sullen grandeur sail

Like floating Alps. Advancing darkness broods

Upon the wild horizon, and the woods,

Now sinking into brambles, echo shrill,

As the gust sweeps them, and those upper floods

Shoot on their leafless boughs the sleet-drops chill,

That on the hurrying crowds in freezing showers distil.

.

They reach the wilderness ! The majesty

Of solitude is spread before their gaze.

Stern nakedness,—dark earth and wrathful sky.

If ruins were there, they long had ceased to blaze ;

If blood was shed, the ground no more betrays.

Even by a skeleton, the crime of man ;

Behind them rolls the deep and drenching haze,

Wrapping their rear in night ; before their van

The struggling daylight shows the unmeasured desert wan.

.

Still on they sweep, as if their hurrying march

Could bear them from the rushing of His wheel

Whose chariot is the whirlwind. Heaven’s clear arch

At once is covered with a livid veil ;

In mixed and fighting heaps the deep clouds reel ;

Upon the dense horizon hangs the sun,

In sanguine light, an orb of burning steel;

The snows wheel down through twilight, thick and dun ;

Now tremble, men of blood, the judgment has begun !

.

The trumpet of the northern winds has blown,

And it is answered by the dying roar

Of armies on that boundless field o’erthrown.

Now in the awful gusts the deserts hoar

Is tempested, a sea without a shore,

Lifting its feathery waves. The legions fly ;

Volley on volley down the hailstones pour;

Blind, famished, frozen, mad, the wanderers die.

And dying, hear the storm but wilder thunder by.

moscow-fire

Such is the hand of Heaven ! A human blow

Had crushed them in the flight, or flung the chain

Round them where Moscow’s stately towers were low

And all bestilled. But thou ! thy battle-plain

Was a whole empire ; that devoted train

Must war from day to day with storm and gloom,

(Man following, like the wolves, to rend the slain)

Must lie from night to night as in a tomb.

Must fly, toil, bleed for home ; yet never see that home.

retreat-from-russia-scene-iii

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