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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

NAPOLEON IS BANISHED TO ELBA

[436] NAPOLEON left his army on the frontiers of Poland and drove away with all possible haste to Paris, where the true story of the retreat from Moscow had only just become known, for all news of disaster the emperor kept from the capital as long as was possible.

The misfortune of the Grand Army had been due entirely to the weather, said the emperor, and he seemed to be undisturbed by the great loss of life that had reduced his army to a mere handful of men. He was, indeed, no sooner in Paris than he began to assemble a new army. Every lad of sixteen, in either France or Italy, who could handle a gun was forced to become a recruit.

When this new army was ready, the emperor once again marched against his foes. Prussia had now joined Russia against the great French general. The Prussians were led by Blücher, an old soldier seventy years of age. Blücher loved his country well, and longed, by a glorious victory, to wipe from her annals the disgrace of the defeat of Jena.

Two great battles took place near Dresden, and Napoleon forced the allied army to retreat. He himself then hastened to Leipzig, where he could easily keep in touch with France.

Here, in October 1818, a great battle called the "Battle of the Nations" was fought.

For four days the tide of war ebbed and flowed, now the French, now the allied army seemed to be on the point of winning the victory. But at length the struggle ended, the French being defeated and driven back into the town. Here [437] their supply of ammunition came to an end, and there was nothing left for them to do save retreat, and that in face of the foe.

Along a narrow bridge the French army took its way. But by some fatal mistake the bridge was blown up while the men were still crossing. Again disaster had befallen the French. Thousands of soldiers were drowned, thousands were captured by the enemy.

Then the power of the great French emperor quickly began to wane.

Country after country threw off its allegiance to France. Holland, as also the states of Germany, drove the French out of their land, while Lord Wellington triumphed in the Peninsula.

After the defeat of Leipzig Napoleon had hastened to Paris. A month later the allies offered him humiliating terms of peace. When these were scornfully refused by the emperor, the Prussian, Russian, and Austrian armies marched into France.

Napoleon tried to raise a new army, but so many soldiers had perished on the battlefield that this was now no easy matter.

Against the advancing foe Napoleon at last led an army indeed, but one composed chiefly of raw recruits. Even thus the genius of Napoleon wrested victory from his enemies in four pitched battles.

At length the allied forces succeeded in eluding the French general. Unawares, they slipped away and marched straight on Paris.

The National Guards fought bravely to defend the capital, but they were soon overpowered, and the city surrendered to the enemy in March 1814.

As the victorious generals rode through the streets of Paris the people shouted gladly, "Long live the Emperor Alexander! Down with the tyrant!" for they knew that Napoleon was selfish and cared little for them or their needs [438] so that he might satisfy his own ambitions. Even the statues which had been erected in his honour were pulled down and trampled upon by the excited mob.

Meanwhile Napoleon, finding that the enemy had escaped followed toward Paris, only to hear, on reaching Fontaine-bleau, a few miles distant, that the capital had surrendered.

Thus the mighty empire which Napoleon had reared in a few years had fallen to pieces in a few months. Even Paris was no longer his.

The great emperor saw that there was nothing he could do save give up his crown.

"The allied Powers," wrote Napoleon, "having declared that the emperor was the sole obstacle to the re-establishment of peace in Europe, the emperor, faithful to his oaths, declares that he renounces, for himself and his heirs, the thrones of France and Italy, and that there is no sacrifice, not even that of life, which he is not ready to make for the interest of France."

After his abdication the allies made Napoleon King of Elba, a little island in the Mediterranean Sea.

Before he left France he called his troops together to bid them farewell.

The Old Guards, who had so often followed Napoleon to victory, shed tears at the thought of losing their general. As he saw their tears, their leader bent forward and kissed the Eagle of France which was on their "standards. Then, turning away, he left them, to journey to the island to which he was exiled.


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