“It was the 7th of February, 1807. The night was dark and intensely cold as the Russians, exhausted by the retreat of the day, took their positions for the desperate battle of the morrow. There was a gentle swell of land extending two or three miles, which skirted a vast, bleak, unsheltered plain, over which the wintry gale drifted the snow. Upon this ridge the Russians in double lines formed themselves in battle array. Five hundred pieces of cannon were ranged in battery, to hurl destruction into the bosoms of their foes. They then threw themselves upon the icy ground for their frigid bivouac. A fierce storm had already risen, which spread over the sleeping host its mantle of snow.”
Napoleon came also upon the field, in the darkness of the night and of the storm, and placed his army in position for the battle which the dawn would usher in. Two hundred pieces of artillery were planted to reply to the Russian batteries. There were eighty thousand Russians on the ridge, sixty thousand Frenchmen on the plain, and separated by a distance of less than half a cannon shot. The sentinels of either army could almost touch each other with their muskets.
The morning had not yet dawned when the cannonade commenced. The earth shook beneath its roar. A storm of snow at the same time swept over the plain blinding and smothering assailants and assailed. The smoke of the battle blended with the storm had spread over the contending hosts a sulphurous canopy black as midnight. Even the flash of the guns could hardly be discerned through the gloom. All the day long, and until ten o’clock at night, the battle raged with undiminished fury. One half of the Russian army was now destroyed, and the remainder, unable longer to endure the conflict, sullenly retreated. Napoleon remained master of the field, which exhibited such a scene of misery as had never before met even his eye. When congratulated upon his victory by one of his officers he replied sadly,
“To a father who loses his children, victory has no charms. When the heart speaks, glory itself is an illusion.”
REIGN OF ALEXANDER I.
From 1807 to 1825.
The Field of Eylau.—Letter to the King of Prussia.—Renewal of the War—Discomfiture of the Allies.—Battle of Friedland.—The Raft at Tilsit.—Intimacy of the Emperors.—Alexander’s Designs upon Turkey.—Alliance between France and Russia.—Object of the Continental System.—Perplexities of Alexander.—Driven by the Nobles to War.—Results of the Russian Campaign.—Napoleon Vanquished.—Last Days of Alexander.—His Sickness and Death.
From the field of Eylau, the Russians and Prussians retreated to the Niemen. Napoleon remained some days upon the field to nurse the wounded, and, anxious for peace, wrote to the King of Prussia in the following terms: