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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

If we may trust the Memoirs of General Landrieux


One

of a group of generals, whom he had assembled about him near Montechiaro, proposed that they should ascend the hill which dominated the plain. Even from its ridge no Austrians were to be seen. Again the commander burst forth with petulant reproaches, and even talked of retiring to the Adda. Whereupon, if we may trust the "Memoirs" of General Landrieux, Augereau protested against retreat, and promised success for a vigorous charge. "I wash my hands of it, and I am going away," replied Bonaparte. "And who will command, if you go?" inquired Augereau. "You," retorted Bonaparte, as he left the astonished circle.

However this may be, the first attack on Castiglione was certainly left to this determined fighter; and the mingling of boldness and guile which he showed on the following day regained for the French not only the village, but also the castle, perched on a precipitous rock. Yet the report of Colonel Graham, who was then at Marshal Wuermser's headquarters, somewhat dulls the lustre of Augereau's exploit; for the British officer asserts that the Austrian position had been taken up quite by haphazard, and that fewer than 15,000 white-coats were engaged in this first battle of Castiglione. Furthermore, the narratives of this _melee_ written by Augereau himself and by two other generals, Landrieux and Verdier, who were disaffected towards Bonaparte, must naturally be received with much reserve. The effect of Augereau's indomitable energy in restoring

confidence to the soldiers and victory to the French tricolour was, however, generously admitted by the Emperor Napoleon; for, at a later time when complaints were being made about Augereau, he generously exclaimed: "Ah, let us not forget that he saved us at Castiglione."[59]

While Augereau was recovering this important position, confused conflicts were raging a few miles further north at Lonato. Massena at first was driven back by the onset of the Imperialists; but while they were endeavouring to envelop the French, Bonaparte arrived, and in conjunction with Massena pushed on a central attack such as often wrested victory from the enemy. The white-coats retired in disorder, some towards Gavardo, others towards the lake, hotly followed by the French. In the pursuit towards Gavardo, Bonaparte's old friend, Junot, distinguished himself by his dashing valour. He wounded a colonel, slew six troopers, and, covered with wounds, was finally overthrown into a ditch. Such is Bonaparte's own account. It is gratifying to know that the wounds neither singly nor collectively were dangerous, and did not long repress Junot's activity. A tinge of romance seems, indeed, to have gilded many of these narratives; and a critical examination of the whole story of Lonato seems to suggest doubts whether the victory was as decisive as historians have often represented. If the Austrians were "thrown back on Lake Garda and Desenzano,"[60] it is difficult to see why the pursuers did not drive them into the lake. As a matter of fact, nearly all the beaten troops escaped to Gavardo, while others joined their comrades engaged in the blockade of Peschiera.

A strange incident serves to illustrate the hazards of war and the confusion of this part of the campaign. A detachment of the vanquished Austrian forces some 4,000 strong, unable to join their comrades at Gavardo or Peschiera, and yet unharmed by the victorious pursuers, wandered about on the hills, and on the next day chanced near Lonato to come upon a much smaller detachment of French. Though unaware of the full extent of their good fortune, the Imperialists boldly sent an envoy to summon the French commanding officer to surrender. When the bandage was taken from his eyes, he was abashed to find himself in the presence of Bonaparte, surrounded by the generals of his staff. The young commander's eyes flashed fire at the seeming insult, and in tones vibrating with well-simulated passion he threatened the envoy with condign punishment for daring to give such a message to the commander-in-chief at his headquarters in the midst of his army. Let him and his men forthwith lay down their arms. Dazed by the demand, and seeing only the victorious chief and not the smallness of his detachment, 4,000 Austrians surrendered to 1,200 French, or rather to the address and audacity of one master-mind.


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