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The Story of Russia by  Robert van Bergen


 

 

RUSSIA DURING THE WARS OF NAPOLEON

[194] PAUL was forty-two years old when he succeeded to the throne. His youth and early manhood had been far from pleasant. His mother had never shown any love for him, and Paul had not forgotten his father's sudden death. He was held in absolute submission, and was not permitted to share in the government; he had not even a voice in the education of his children. The courtiers, in order to please his mother, showed him scant courtesy; this is probably the reason of his sensitiveness after he came to the throne. He ordered men and women to kneel down in the street when he was passing, and those who drove in carriages had to halt. It is also shown in this remark, "Know that the only person of consideration in Russia is the person whom I address, at the moment that I am addressing him.'' It was justice, but it reflected upon his mother's memory when, immediately after her death, Paul ordered his father's remains to be exhumed, to be buried at the same time and with the same pomp as those of Catherine.

Such a man could have no sympathy with the French revolution which was shaking the foundations of Old Europe. He forbade the use of any word that might [195] be construed to refer to it. He ordered the army to adopt the Russian uniform, including the powdered pigtails of that time. Souvorof fell in disgrace because he was reported to have said: "There is powder and powder. Shoe buckles are not gun carriages, nor pig-tails bayonets; we are not Prussians but Russians."

Paul pardoned a number of exiled Poles, and brought the last king, Stanislas Poniatofski, to St. Petersburg, He discontinued the war with Persia, and instructed his ambassadors to announce that since Russia, and Russia alone, had been at war since 1756, "the humanity of the Emperor did not allow him to refuse his beloved subjects the peace for which they sighed."

Nevertheless, Russia was drawn into Napoleon's gigantic wars. Uneasy at the plans of the French Republic, Paul entered into an alliance with England, Austria, Naples, and Turkey. He furnished troops for England's descent upon Holland, and recalled Souvorof to take command of the Russian forces cooperating with those of Austria. The British expedition proved a failure, but Souvorof's strategy and indomitable courage shed glory upon the Russian army.

When Souvorof arrived at Vienna, he took command of the allied forces consisting of 90,000 men. On April 28, 1799, he surprised Moreau at Cassano and took 3,000 prisoners. He entered Milan, and soon after laid siege to Mantua, Alessandria, and Turin. On June 17, Souvorof was attacked on the Trebia; the battle lasted three days, leaving the victory to the Russians. After the victory at Novi, on the 15th of August, the French were forced to evacuate Italy.

[196] Souvorof had divided his force of 80,000 Russians into two corps, one to operate in Switzerland, the other under his own command, to conduct the campaign in Italy. His great success brought upon him the envy of the Austrian generals, by whom his movements were constantly hampered. He therefore resolved to effect a junction with the forces in Switzerland, who, on the 26th of September, had been defeated at Zurich with a loss of 6,000 men. Souvorof did not know this. He reached the St. Gothard on the 21st and crossed it under unheard-of difficulties. "In this kingdom of terrors," he writes to Paul, "abysses open beside us at every step, like tombs awaiting our arrival. Nights spent among the clouds, thunder that never ceases, rain, fog, the noise of cataracts, the breaking of avalanches, enormous masses of rocks and ice which fall from the heights, torrents which sometimes carry men and horses down the precipices, the St. Gothard, that colossus who sees the mists pass under him,—we have surmounted all, and in these inaccessible spots the enemy has been forced to give way before us. Words fail to describe the horrors we have seen, and in the midst of which Providence has preserved us." "The Russian, inhabitant of the plain, was awe-struck by the grandeur of this mountain scenery."

Souvorof brushed the French out of his way until, on the 26th, he arrived at Altdorf with the loss of only 2,000 men. Here he received information of the defeat at Zurich, and saw that he was surrounded on all sides by superior forces. His retreat showed the highest military skill, as well as the man's indomitable energy. Over untrodden mountains, and snow at one place five feet deep, [197] he guided the remains of his army to a lower altitude, and went into winter quarters between the Iler and the Lech.

Souvorof complained bitterly to the czar of the Austrian generals, who had given him ample reason. At about this time Napoleon had returned from his fruitless campaign in Egypt, and at Marengo defeated the Austrians, whereby the results of Souvorof's campaign were lost. Paul was angry at Austria and Great Britain. Napoleon, shrewdly guessed the czar's feelings, released the Russian prisoners, after equipping them anew. Paul satisfied that Napoleon was an enemy of republican institutions, conceived an intense admiration for his military genius, and came to an understanding with him to overthrow British rule in India. The czar at once commenced to prepare its execution. Two armies were formed; one was to march on the Upper Indus by way of Khiva and Bokhara, while the Cossacks under their hetman Denisof would go by Orenburg. He was confident that the gigantic task could be accomplished, and sent daily instructions to the hetman.

Napoleon had a far better idea of the difficulties, but he did not consider the expedition as hopeless. But even if it failed, he would be the winner, because England would be compelled to send most of her navy to India, while Russia would be too fully occupied, to interfere with his projects in Europe. The Cossacks started on their long journey, by crossing the Volga on the floating ice when, on the 24th of March, 1801, Paul was assassinated in his palace.

There was no doubt as to the guilty men, but Paul's son, Alexander, who succeeded him, did not order an investi- [198] gation. Pahlen, Panine, Zoubof, and others, known as the "men of the 24th of March," were removed from office, but that was their only punishment. Paul's mother had alienated her grandchildren from the father, and Alexander always showed greater affection for Catherine than for Paul. The greatest sufferer was Napoleon, who saw his grand schemes go up in smoke. Alexander reversed his father's policy, both at home and abroad. He came to an understanding with England. Napoleon tried earnestly to secure the new czar's friendship. He wanted a free hand in Europe and in return offered the same privilege in Asia, but Alexander mistrusted the First Consul. The murder of the Duke of Enghien, who, by Napoleon's order, was kidnapped in a neutral territory and shot—still further alienated the czar.

After Napoleon's coronation as emperor, Alexander entered into an alliance with England, whereby he would receive six million dollars for every 100,000 men Russia placed in the field. The Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia joined, but the Austrians, whose generals seemed unable to learn by experience, were defeated before the Russian army could reach the Tyrol. Once again the Russians covered themselves with glory by Koutouzof's masterly retreat to the north, and Bagration's heroic self-sacrifice. At Olmutz, in the presence of Alexander, the Russo-Austrian army, 80,000 strong, was attacked by Napoleon with 70,000 men. The Austrians had induced the czar to adopt their plan of battle, and it met with the usual result. Alexander escaped, escorted by his physician, two Cossacks, and a company of the Guards. (Dec. 2, 1805.) Twenty-four days later Alex- [199] ander concluded peace with France by the Treaty of Presburg.

The growing power of Napoleon induced Alexander to enter into a new coalition with England, Prussia, and Sweden. Russia bore the brunt of the war, after Prussia had been rendered harmless after the battles of Jena and Auerstadt. The Russians withdrew from Prussian Poland; they suddenly left their winter quarters and attacked the French. On the 8th of February, one of the bloodiest battles was fought at Eylau; the French claimed the victory, but it was barren of results.

Napoleon dreaded Russia. He persuaded the Sultan of Turkey and the Shah of Persia to declare war, so as to occupy Alexander elsewhere. The czar, however, was loyal to his allies until, on the 14th of June, his army was almost annihilated at Friedland. This loss compelled him to enter into negotiations. On June 25, 1807, the two emperors met on a raft at Tilsit. Napoleon was prepared to do almost anything that would induce Alexander to cease interfering in Europe. An offensive-defensive alliance was concluded, whereby Napoleon agreed not to oppose the expulsion of the Turk or Russia's conquest of Constantinople. The czar meant to carry out the treaty in letter and in spirit, but he soon saw that Napoleon's ambition was limitless, and that he was playing with his ally. This was evident by the proposed partition of Turkey: nothing came of it. Still he accepted Napoleon's invitation to a conference at Erfurt, where he was received by the French Emperor amid a court composed of sovereigns and princes. A convention was signed on the 12th of October, 1808, whereby Alexander [200] promised Napoleon a free hand, in return for the annexation by Russia of Finland and the Turkish provinces on the Danube.

This led to a war with Great Britain, Sweden, and Austria, not including Turkey and Persia. Russia acquired Finland, when Alexander, after convoking the Diet, guaranteed its constitution, privileges, and university. In 1809, war again broke out between Austria and France. By the terms of the alliance, Russia had agreed to furnish troops, but they showed that they did not relish fighting with the French. There were two engagements; in one of these, the casualties were one Russian killed and two wounded. By an oversight of Napoleon the Poles serving under him were to cooperate with the Russians, and, far from doing so, they often came to blows. The Russian general constantly sent complaints to the czar. Napoleon made a great effort to appease Alexander by assigning to Russia Eastern Gallicia with a population of 400,000. Alexander declined to be represented in the peace negotiations at Vienna. Napoleon's creation of the Grand Dukedom of Warsaw was a constant menace to Russia.

Meanwhile the Russians were uniformly victorious in Turkey; the czar concluded peace only when it was evident that war with France was unavoidable, and that Russia would need every man. It was on this account that he gave easy terms to the hard-pressed Sultan. Russia annexed Bessarabia, part of Roumania, Ismail, and Kilia on the Lower Danube.

The time for the momentous struggle had arrived. Napoleon, the master of Continental Europe, thought that he was more than a match for serf-ridden Russia. He [201] reckoned upon the echo which the words liberty, equality, and fraternity, would awaken in the hearts of the moujik, and forgot that they were abstract ideas which to the serf, struggling for enough black bread to allay the cravings of hunger, were so many empty sounds. He tried to arouse Europe's suspicions of Russia's designs, not thinking that any yoke, even that of the Tartars, would be a welcome relief to nations mourning for the slaughter of their sons.

Napoleon left Paris for Dresden on the 9th of May, 1812; on the first of June an army of 678,000 men, including 60,000 Poles, stood ready to invade Russia. Alexander had only 150,000 men under Bagration and Barclay de Tolly, 90,000 posted on the Niemen, and 60,000 on the Vistula; but he issued a proclamation announcing a Holy War. "Rise all of you!" he urged, "With the Cross in your hearts and arms in your hands, no human force can prevail against you!"

Napoleon advanced clutching shadows. After his army left Wilna, leaving dead desolation in its wake, the time soon came when retreat was no longer possible. Russian patriotism clamored for battle and Russian prudence had to give way to it. All of Koutouzof's remarkable influence was required to restrain his men under the retreat which foretold victory, because every step forward sealed Napoleon's doom. The Corsican knew it but, with the superstition born in him, trusted to his star. Finally he drew near Moscow, the Holy City, where Count Rostopchine, the governor, was preparing the grand climax of the drama, while pacifying Russian patriotism by a series of hardy falsehoods. "I have resolved," he [202] explained, "at every disagreeable piece of news to raise doubts as to its truth; by this means, I shall weaken the first impression, and before there is time to verify it, others will come which will require investigation." The people implicitly believed his most daring inventions. When he evacuated Moscow, he ordered all prisons to be opened, and the guns in the arsenal to be distributed among the people; he also had the pumps removed and finally gave instructions to set fire to the stores of vodka and the boats loaded with alcohol.

Napoleon arrived at the Kremlin on the 14th of September. Short as was his sojourn, it was with difficulty that he escaped through the flames and found refuge in a park. Why did he waste thirty-five days in the charred capital? Was it belief in his star, or was it despair at the ruin of his prospects? On the 13th of October, the remnant of the Grand Army started on its long journey over the desert it had left behind, because all other roads were closed to it. The retreat has been described by many writers; but what pen shall do justice to the suffering caused by the unusually severe winter, the snow, the ice, the hunger, and the thirst? And how many hearts were rent, when the news came of the dead, the wounded, and the missing? Napoleon's campaign in Russia was the most impressive sermon against war, but it fell upon heedless ears.

After the battle of the Berezina, Napoleon left the army and hurried home. All his thoughts were on the effect of the disastrous defeat,—not upon the hundred thousand desolate homes, but upon his own fortunes. He arrived in Paris where he gathered 450,000 men, many of [203] them mere youths, to support him with their blood. But Europe was weary of slaughter. Kings might tremble for their crowns, it was the people, aroused to frenzy, that impelled them to action. On Napoleon's heels, besides, there was a bloodhound whom nobler instincts than mere self-preservation inspired to ceaseless pursuit. Alexander I, at this time, earned and deserved the glorious surname of The Well-beloved. Not a thought of self-glory or personal aggrandizement sullied the relentless chase. Emperors and kings dreading the awakened conscience of the people would have made peace, and they could have done so with security for themselves, but Alexander said, "No!" Under fire at the four days' battle of Leipzig, he personally directed reënforcements where they were required. And when, at last, the host of invaders stepped on the soil whose people during twenty years had committed outrages in almost every known country of Europe, they were noble words which the Autocrat addressed to his troops whom he had brought so far away from home. "By invading our empire," he says. "the enemy has done us much harm, and has therefore been subjected to a terrible chastisement. The anger of God has overthrown him. Do not let us imitate him. The merciful God does not love cruel and inhuman men. Let us forget the evil he has wrought; let us carry to our foes, not vengeance and hate, but friendship, and a hand extended in peace."

These were not mere words; Alexander the Well-beloved was sincere. But it was he who refused to receive Napoleon's envoy at Freiburg, and it was he who, when Napoleon, fighting like a tiger at bay, was [204] defeating the separated armies, so that the British envoy urged to come to terms with him, answered, "It would not be a peace but a truce. I cannot come four hundred leagues to your assistance every day. No peace, so long as Napoleon is on the throne!" By his direction the united armies rolled like an avalanche upon Paris,—and Napoleon gave up the struggle by abdicating.

Again it was Alexander the Well-beloved who intervened when other powers would have overwhelmed the fallen colossus. It was Alexander who procured for his enemy the sovereignty of the island of Elba, and commissioned Count Schouvalof to escort him. "I confide to you a great mission:" he said; "you will answer to me with your head for a single hair which falls from the head of Napoleon."

At the Congress of Vienna assembled the statesmen to dispose of nations and peoples, as their own ambition prompted. Alexander desired to unite Poland to his crown, but separate from Russia; but was opposed by Austria, Great Britain, and France, who entered into a secret alliance against him. Had Napoleon waited two hundred days instead of half that time, who knows that he might not yet have been the arbiter of Europe? His descent united all factions, and Alexander declared that he would pursue Napoleon "down to his last man and his last ruble."

Once again armies were set in motion, and once again Napoleon resorted to his well-known tactics of destroying his enemies one by one. He failed at Waterloo. (June 17, i815.) Again the allies re-entered Paris, the Prussians first but closely followed by the czar and his army. [205] "Justice, but no revenge!" proclaimed Alexander when Blücher would have followed Napoleon's example of robbing a country of its works of art. The czar stood the friend of France when Prussia demanded a frontier which would render her safe from French invasion; but he said frankly that he "wished to allow some danger to exist on that side, so that Germany, having need of Russia, might remain dependent." He was in favor of allowing the French to select their own government, but was overruled. At last the allies came to an understanding, and Poland was joined to the Russian Crown.

The Polish soldiers who had fought so bravely under Napoleon, placed themselves at the czar's service, hoping and trusting that their country would revive under a Russian king. Alexander's promises at Vienna had been vague, but recent events had made a deep impression upon him. In this frame of mind, he directed that Poland be restored. This was announced on the 21st of June, at Warsaw amid the roar of cannon. Constantine, Alexander's brother, was made King, and a legislative body, composed of a senate and house of representatives, was formed under a constitution which also guaranteed the freedom of the press.

Thus Alexander returned to Russia. Soon after that he gave evidence that strong emotions were required to subdue the inborn prejudice in favor of autocracy. Russia, of necessity, had acquired an overwhelming influence in Europe. This showed at the several Congresses, at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, at Carlsbad in i819, at Troppau in 1820, and at Verona in 1822. The crowned heads of Europe appeared unable to comprehend that the French [206] revolution, with its orgies of blood and tears, had produced an impassable abyss between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They wished to return to the conditions prevailing before the revolution, which caused the success of that upheaval; but the people, the masses, had quaffed of the cup of liberty, and the taste lingered. The Holy Alliance with its unholy aims might ordain what it pleased, the people  obstinately refused to resume the place of beasts of burden for the benefit of the State. Thus a spirit of unrest was perceptible, and when Alexander learned that his "I, the czar, will it!" was not able to restore quiet, he joined the other crowned heads in their struggle against more liberal ideas. From that time his conduct changed.

There was evidence of this in the events occurring in the south. The majority of the inhabitants of the Balkan provinces of Turkey belonged to the Greek Church, and looked to Alexander for relief from the oppressive Mahomedan yoke. The Servians took up arms, the people of Greece did the same. On Easter day, 1821, the Patriarch of the Greek Church at Constantinople was seized at the altar, and hung in his vestment at the door of the church. Three metropolitans and eight bishops were also murdered. The news caused deep indignation in Russia, but Alexander moved not. He believed in the theory that no people should be encouraged in rising against its ordained masters. In Russia all liberal ideas were rigidly suppressed.

In 1825, Alexander left St. Petersburg for the south where he intended to spend some time. He was full of gloomy forebodings and gave further evidence of an [207] unsound mind by having a mass for the dead sung in his presence in broad daylight. While in the Crimea he was heard to repeat: "They may say what they like of me, but I have lived and will die a republican." He died on the 19th of November, 1825, while on his journey.

He left no sons. His brother Constantine had renounced the crown when he became King of Poland, and in 1823. Alexander had made his next brother Nicholas his successor. Alexander's reign marked a new era for Russia inasmuch as it was brought into closer contact with Europe, and promised to change in thought and impulse, from an Asiatic into a European nation. The necessity of securing the help of the masses against Napoleon's invasion created newspapers, and writers of unusual ability expressed their patriotic thoughts in prose and poetry. In 1814, the Imperial Library was opened to the public at St. Petersburg. It contained at that time 242,000 volumes, and about 10,000 manuscripts.

In 1803, Captains Krusenstern and Lisianski made the first Russian voyage around the world in the Nadejda  (the Hope), and the Neva. It was on this occasion that Russia entered into relations with the United States.


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