Tired of feeling nothing of them on any side, the marshal determined to go in quest of them himself. On the 1st of August, therefore, he left general Merle and his division on the Drissa, to protect his baggage, his great park of artillery, and his retreat; he pushed Verdier towards Sebez, and made him take a position on the high-road, in order to mask the movement which he was meditating.
He went up to the map and speaking rapidly began proving that no eventuality could alter the efficiency of the Drissa camp, that everything had been foreseen, and that if the enemy were really going to outflank it, the enemy would inevitably be destroyed. Paulucci, who did not know German, began questioning him in French.
When Balachoff rejoined the Czar in order to give account of his mission, Alexander was no longer at Drissa. Waiting in an entrenched camp tired and humiliated the Russians.
It need not be on any one of them: in fact, it was better that it should be some distance away; for it thus fulfilled better the all-important function of a "flanking position." Such a position Phull had discovered at Drissa in a curve of the River Dwina. It was sufficiently far from the roads leading from the Niemen to St. Petersburg and to Moscow efficiently to protect them both.
Disappointed, as I have said, by the abandonment of the camp of Drissa by the Russian army, he marched rapidly towards Witepsk, where the greater part of the French forces were then collected: but here the ire of the Emperor was again aroused by a new retreat of the Russians; for the encounters of Ostrovno and Mohilev, although important, could not be considered as the kind of battle the Emperor so ardently desired.
That portion of Phull's strategy having signally failed, Alexander naturally became more suspicious about the Drissa plan; and during the retirement from Vilna, he ordered a survey of the works to be made by Phull's adjutant, a young German named Clausewitz, who was destined to win a name as an authority in strategy. This officer was unable conscientiously to present a cheering report.
The enormous Drissa camp was formed on Pfuel's plan, and there was no intention of retiring farther. The Emperor reproached the commanders in chief for every step they retired.
For a moment Napoleon contemplated a junction of Ney and Eugène against Barclay, but the former had pushed on to seize Dünaburg, and was out of reach. This scheme, like the other, came to naught; Bagration, by a long, painful detour, was able to establish communication with Drissa, and seemed likely to effect a junction with Barclay on the road to Smolensk.
Disposing his army in echelon, with beautiful precision he suddenly turned against the enemy's right, crossed the Niemen, and seized Vilna. This turned the Russian flank, and Barclay fell back to the fortified camp which had been established at Drissa in order to cover St. Petersburg. If, then, Jerome's division had promptly advanced from Grodno, Bagration would have been cut off and annihilated.
When had that question been settled? At Drissa and at Smolensk and most palpably of all on the twenty-fourth of August at Shevardino and on the twenty-sixth at Borodino, and each day and hour and minute of the retreat from Borodino to Fili.
Word Of The Day