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THE BURNING OF MOSCOW
 FROM west to east across Europe had marched the army of the great conqueror, no nation daring to draw a
hostile sword, none venturing to place an obstacle in its path. Across Russia it had marched almost as
triumphantly, breaking irresistibly through the dams of armed men in its way, sweeping onward with the
strength and majesty of fate. At length it had reached the heart of the empire of the czars, and before it lay
displayed the ancient capital of the Muscovite kings, time-honored Moscow.
This great city was revealed to the eyes of the weary soldiers with the suddenness of a mirage in the desert.
Throughout that day an interminable outreach of level country had seemed to spread before them, dreary,
uninviting, disheartening. Now, from the summit of a hill, their triumphant eyes gazed suddenly upon the roofs
and spires of a mighty city, splendid, far-reaching, stretching far across the plain that lay revealed before
their eyes. It seemed to them truly as if the hand of a magician had touched the desert, and caused this city
to spring up across their path.
It was a remarkable spectacle that met their gaze. Here were visible what seemed hundreds of gilded domes and
shining spires, thousands of habitations rich with varied colors, a strange compound of palaces
 and cottages, churches and bell-towers, woods and lakes, Western and Oriental architecture, the Gothic arches
and spires of Europe mingled with the strange forms of Byzantine and Asiatic edifices. Outwardly, a line of
monasteries flanked with towers appeared to encircle the city. Centrally, crowning an eminence, rose a great
citadel, from whose towers one could look down on columned temples and imperial palaces, embattled walls
crowned with majestic domes, from whose summits, above the reversed crescent, rose the cross, Russia's emblem
of conquest over the fanatical sectaries of the East. It was the Kremlin which they here beheld, the sacred
centre of the Russian empire, the ancient dwelling-place and citadel of the czars.
A wild cry of wonder and triumph burst from the soldiers who had first reached the summit of the hill.
"Moscow! Moscow!" they shouted, their imaginations strongly excited by the magnificent spectacle. This cry
lent wings to those behind them. In crowding hosts the eager soldiers rushed up the long slope, all ranks
mingling in their burning desire to gaze upon that great city which was the goal of their far-extended march.
Deep were the emotions, intense the joy, with which they gazed on this dazzling vision, with all its domes and
spires burning in the warm rays of the sun. Napoleon himself, who hastened to the spot, was struck with
admiration, and new dreams of glory doubtless sprang up in his soul as he stood gazing with deep emotion on
what must have seemed to him the key
 of the East, the gateway to conquests never yet surpassed by man. Little did he dream that it was ruin upon
which he gazed, the fatal turning-point in his long career of victory. Still certain of his genius, still
confident in his good fortune, he looked forward to new conquests which would throw those of the past into the
shade, and as his eyes rested on that mighty city of the czars, the intoxication of glory filled his soul.
THE CITY OF MOSCOW.
The conqueror gave but little time to these dreams. The steps to realize them must be taken. Murat was bidden
to march forward quickly and to repress all disorders which might break out in the city. Denniée was ordered
to hasten and arrange for the food and lodging of the soldiers. Durosnel received orders to communicate with
the authorities, to calm their fears, and to lead them to the conqueror, that he might receive their homage.
Fancying that the inhabitants awaited his coming in trembling fear, Napoleon halted until these preliminaries
should be arranged, before making his triumphant entry into the conquered capital of Muscovy.
Murat, at the head of the light cavalry, galloped rapidly forward, quickly reaching the bridge over the
Moskowa. Here he found a rear-guard of the Russian army, in rapid retreat. The meeting was not a hostile one;
Murat rode to the Russian line, and asked if there was an officer among them who spoke French. A young Russian
immediately presented himself, and asked him what he wanted.
 "Who is the commander of this rear-guard?" he asked.
The Russian pointed to a white-haired officer, who wore a long cloak of fur. Murat advanced and held out his
hand. The officer took and pressed it warmly.
"Do you know me?" asked the Frenchman.
"Yes," answered the Russian, courteously; "we have seen enough of you under fire to know you."
A short colloquy succeeded, during which Murat could not keep his eyes from the officer's fur cloak, which
looked as if it would be very comfortable in a winter bivouac. The Russian, noticing his looks, took off the
mantle and offered it to him, begging him to accept it as a present from an admiring foe. Murat courteously
accepted it, and in return presented the officer with a beautiful and valuable watch, which was accepted in
the same spirit of courteous good-will.
The Russian officer now joined his men, who were filing rapidly away, and Murat rode onward into the streets
of the captured city, his staff and a detachment of cavalry accompanying him. Through street after street he
passed, here finding himself moving between rows of narrow wooden houses, there through avenues bordered by
palatial residences, which rose from rich and ample gardens, but all silent and seemingly deserted.
The city was there, but where were the people? Solitude surrounded him. Not an inhabitant was to be seen. It
seemed a city of the dead. Into
 Berlin, Vienna, and other capitals had the French army entered, but never had it seen anything like this
utter solitude. The inhabitants, so the surprised soldiers fancied, must be cowering in terror within their
houses. This desolation could not continue. Moscow was known as one of the most bustling cities in Europe. As
soon as the people learned that no harm was meant them, the streets would again swarm with busy life. Hugging
this flattering opinion to his soul, Murat rode on, threading the silent city.
Ah! here were some of the people. A few distracted individuals had appeared in the streets. Murat rode up to
them, to find that they were French, belonging to the foreign colony of Moscow. They begged piteously for
protection from the robbers, who, they said, had become masters of the town. They told Murat more than this,
destroying the pleasant picture of a submissive and contented population with which he had solaced his mind.
The population had fled, they said; no one was left in the city except a few strangers and some Russians who
knew the ways of the French and did not fear them. In their place was a crew of thieves and bandits whom the
Count of Rostopchin had let loose on deserted Moscow, emptying the prisons and setting these convicts free to
ravage the city at their will.
Further evidence of this disheartening story was soon forthcoming. When the French approached the Kremlin they
were saluted by a discharge of musketry. Some of the villanous crew had invaded
 the capitol, seized on the guns in the arsenal, and were firing on the invaders. A few minutes settled this
last effort in the defence of Moscow. The citadel was entered at a charge, several of the villanous crew were
sabred, and the others put to flight. The French had the town, but it was an empty one, its only inmates being
thieves and strangers.
The next morning, September 15, 1812, Napoleon made his triumphal march into Moscow, at the head of his
conquering legions. But for the first time in his career of victory he found himself in the streets of a
deserted city, advancing through empty avenues, to whose windows the tread of marching feet called not an eye
to witness the triumph of France. It was a gloomy and threatening impression which was experienced by the
grand army in its progress through those silent and lifeless streets. The ancient city of the czars seemed a
body without a soul.
But if the people were gone, their dwellings remained. Moscow was taken, with all its palaces and treasures.
It was a signal conquest. Napoleon hastened to the Kremlin, mounted to the top of the lofty tower of Ivan, and
from its height looked with eyes of pride on the far-extending city. It was grand, that vision of palatial
mansions, but it was mournful in its silence and gloom, the tramp of soldiery its only sound, the flutter of
multitudes of birds—ravens and crows, which haunted the city in thousands—its only sign of life. Two days
before Moscow had been one of the busiest cities in the
 world. Now it was the most silent. But the conqueror had this satisfaction, that while abandoned like other
Russian towns, it was not burned like them, he might find here winter-quarters for his army and by mild
measures lure the frightened people back to their homes again. Comforted with this hopeful view, Napoleon
descended the stairs again, filled with confidence and triumph.
His confidence was misplaced. Disaster lowered upon the devoted city. On the day succeeding his entrance a
column of flame suddenly appeared, rising from a large building in which was stored an abundant supply of
spirits. The soldiers ran thither without thought of alarm, fancying that this was due to some imprudence on
the part of their own men. In a short time the fire was mastered, and a feeling of confidence returned.
But immediately afterwards a new fire broke out in a great collection of buildings called the Bazaar, in which
were the richest shops of the city, filled with costly goods, the beautiful fabrics of Persia and India, and
rare and precious commodities from all quarters of the world. Here the flames spread with extraordinary
rapidity, consuming the inflammable goods with frightful haste, despite the frantic efforts of the soldiers to
arrest their progress. Despairing of success, they strove to save something from the vast riches of the
establishment, carrying out furs, costly wines, valuable tissues, and other precious treasures. Such as
remained of the people of the town aided in these efforts, in the natural desire to save something from the
 Until now all this seemed ordinary accident, and no one dreamed that these fires were the result of hostile
design. They were soon to learn more of the unconquerable determination of the Russians. During the following
night the wind rose suddenly, and carried the flames of the burning Bazaar along several of the most beautiful
streets of Moscow, the fire spreading rapidly among the wooden buildings, and consuming them with alarming
But this was not the most disturbing indication. Rockets were seen in the distance, ascending into the air,
and immediately afterwards fire broke out in a dozen quarters, and hired bandits were seen carrying
combustibles at the end of long poles, and seeking to extend the empire of the flames. A number of these were
arrested, and under threat of death revealed a frightful secret. The Count of Rostopchin had ordered that the
great city of Moscow should be set on fire and burned, with as little heed for the immense loss involved as he
would have had in ordering the burning of a wayside village.
The news filled the whole army with consternation. Waiting till the wind had risen, the ferocious count had
sent up his signal-rockets to order the work to begin. He had done more. On running to the pumps to obtain
water to extinguish the flames, there were none to be found. They had been removed and the fire-extinguishing
apparatus destroyed in preparation for this incendiary work.
 Napoleon, alarmed and incensed, ordered that all caught in the act of firing buildings should be executed on
the spot. The army was directed to use every effort to extinguish the flames. But the high wind set all their
efforts at defiance. It increased in fury and varied in direction, carrying the conflagration over new
quarters. From the Kremlin could be seen vast columns of fire, shooting from building to building, wrapping
the wooden structures in lurid sheets of flame, sweeping destruction forward at frightful speed. The roar of
the flames, the explosions that from time to time took place, the burning fragments which filled the air,
borne on the wings of the wind, all went to make a scene as grand and fearful as human eye has ever gazed
upon. To Napoleon and his men, who saw their hopes of safe and pleasant winter-quarters thus vanishing in
flame, it must have been a most alarming and disquieting spectacle.
After blowing for some hours from the north-west, the wind shifted to the south-west, and the conflagration
invaded new regions of the city. The Kremlin, hitherto out of the range of the flames, was now in danger.
Fiery sparks, borne by the wind, fell on its roof and in its court-yard. The most frightful danger of the
whole night now threatened the imperilled army. In the court-yards of the Kremlin had been placed more than
four hundred wagons of ammunition; in its arsenal were a hundred thousand pounds of powder. Should the flames
reach these, Napoleon and his guards would be blown into the air.
 All who were near him pressed him to hasten from this imminent peril. General Lariboisière begged him to fly,
as a duty which he owed to his army. Officers who came in from the streets reported that it was almost
impossible to pass through the avenues of the town, and that delay would increase the danger. To remain where
they were much longer might render escape impossible.
Napoleon, convinced by these words, left the Kremlin, after some twenty-four hours' possession of this old
palace of the czars, and descended to the quay of the Moskowa, where he found his horses awaiting him.
Mounting, he rode through the fire-invaded streets towards the north-west, but with no little difficulty and
danger, for the flames from the other quarters of the city were now spreading here.
The wind seemed steadily to increase in violence, torrents of smoke, cinders, and sparks were driven down into
the streets; sheets of flame seemed to bend downward as if to sweep the ground; on every side the troops were
flying for their lives, on every side the conflagration pursued them; it was through imminent peril that the
grand army, which on the morning before had marched so triumphantly into that abandoned city, now succeeded in
gaining a safe location outside, whence they could look back in despair on that hell of flames in which their
dearest hopes were being consumed.
A small number of the inhabitants who had remained concealed in their houses now came out,
 carrying away with them what treasures they most esteemed; in some cases, women their children, men their
aged parents; many of them barely saving their clothes, and disputing the possession of even these with the
band of robbers whom Rostopchin had let loose, and who, like spirits of evil, danced with glee in the midst of
the terrible conflagration which had been kindled by their hands.
So ended one of the most startling events in history,—the burning of a great city to dispossess a victorious
foe. It proved successful. When Napoleon left the Kremlin on that fearful night he began his downward career.
The conflagration, it is true, did not drive him at once from Moscow. He lingered for more than a month amid
its ruins, in the vain hope that the czar would ask him for terms of peace. But the czar kept silent, the city
was untenable for winter-quarters, and retreat became imperative. When, at length, the grand army marched,
winter marched with it,—a winter such as even Russia had rarely seen. Napoleon had delayed too long. The north
gathered its forces and swooped upon his shivering ranks, with death in its blasts. The Russians, recovering
from their losses, rushed upon his freezing columns, pouring destruction upon them as they marched. All was at
an end. The great victor's tide of success had definitely turned. He had entered Russia with nearly half a
million of men; hardly a tenth part of this great army followed him from that fatal land.