Isaac McLellan: “The Battle of Eylau”
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.
Hundreds of leagues from the frontiers of France, with a long dreary winter before him; with Russia and her countless hordes pouring down on him from the north, to join with Prussia, and what was left of her armies, in another effort to crush him. With Austria in his rear waiting only the opportune moment to attack him, the position of Napoleon after the Battle of Jena appeared to be truly a dangerous one.
Not so, however, to the master-mind that guided and controlled the fate of the Grand Army and of France. Instead of retreat, onward! was the word. To go into winter quarters on the Vistula and to push forward still further in the spring was the programme.
The winter quarters were established, but they were to afford little rest to the weary soldiers. Alexander, thinking to surprise the French army while lying in cantonment, put his army in motion. Napoleon, ever on the alert and ready to take advantage of any false movement of his enemy, at once broke up his encampment, boldly moved out and attacked those who were to surprise and attack him.
Beaten at every point, the Russian army, after a retreat of two hundred miles from the Vistula, took its stand upon the plain of Eylau, where, on 8 February, 1807, was fought one of the most terrible battles recorded in history. The destruction of life on both sides was something awful, and the suffering endured by reason of the snow and ice and the intense cold, was appalling. After eighteen hours struggle, Napoleon remained master of the field, but with no decisive victory to his credit.
The Battle of Eylau
Fast and furious falls the snow;
Shrilly the bleak tempests blow,
With a sound of wailing woe,
O’er the soil;
Where the watch-fires blaze around,
Thick the warriors strew the ground
Each in weary slumber bound,
Worn with toil.
Harken to the cannon-blast!
Drums are bearing fierce and fast:
Fierce and fast the trumpets cast
Form the battle’s stern parade,
Charge the musket, draw the blade;
Square and column stand arrayed,
One and all.
On they rush in stern career,
Dragoon and swart cuirassier;
Hussar-lance and Cossack-spear
Now the grenadier of France
Sinks beneath the Imperial lance;
Now the Prussian horse advance,
Davist. with his line of steel,
Storms their squadrons till they reel,
While his ceaseless cannon-peal
Rends the sky.
‘Gainst that crush of iron hail
Naught may Russia’s ranks avail:
Like the torn leaves in the gale,
See, they fly!
Through the battle’s smoky gloom
Shineth Murat’s snowy plume;
Fast his cohorts to their doom
Spur the way.
Platoff, with his desert horde;
Deep his Tartar-spears have gored
With his thousands, Augereau
Paints with blood the virgin snow;
Low in war’s red overthrow
Sleep they on!
Helm and breast plate they have lost,
Spoils that long shall be the boast
Of the savage-bearded host
Of the Don.
Charge, Napoleon! Where be those
At Marengo squelled thy foes;
Crowning thee at Jena’s close
At this hour of deadly need
Faintly thy old guardsman bleed;
Vain dies cuirassier and steed,
Drenched with gore.
Sad the frosty moonbeam shone
O’er the snows with corses strown,
Where the frightful shriek and groan
Loud the night-wind rang their knell;
Fast the flaky horrors fell,
Hiding in their snowy cell
Heaps of slain!
Many a year hath passed and fled
O’er that harvest of the dead;
On thy rock the Chief hath sped,
Still the Polish peasant shows
The round hillocks of the foes,
Where the long grass rankly grows,