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.
Battaile de Marengo
by Louis Francois Lejeune
The Battle of Marengo
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!
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!
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.
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.”
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!
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.”
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!
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!
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!
‘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!
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!
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.
Death of General Desaix