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Savary: Memoirs of the Duke of Rovigo
Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 10
The Emperor recrosses the river—Arrival of twelve hundred sailors of the guard— Stratagem resorted to by the Austrians to destroy our bridge—Wonderful activity of the Emperor—Construction of a bridge upon piles—The Emperor dispatches orders to Prince Eugene in Italy and to Marmont in Dalmatia—General arrangements—Gratuities distributed amongst the men in hospitals— Gratitude of the wounded.

AFTER having adopted this determination, the Emperor ordered the engineers and sappers who were in the island to embark in the boats which had been saved from the broken bridge, and return to the right bank, and he got into a skiff with the Prince of Neufchatel and myself for the same destination. We crossed the Danube towards midnight: the Emperor was exhausted with fatigue ; and I offered him the assistance of my arm to walk up to the house which he had occupied in the village of Ebersdorf previously to the passing of the river. His mind was evidently at work, though free from agitation. On arriving, he laid himself down upon a bundle of straw, and took a few moments, rest. Two hours after daylight be was already on horseback, and visiting the bivouacs of those troops which, owing to the breaking down of the bridge, had been prevented from taking a part in the engagement.

Malevolence has delighted in representing the Emperor as of a mistrustful character ; and yet on this occasion, where ill intentioned men might have made any attempt upon his person, his only guard at head-quarters was the Portuguese legion, which watched as carefully over him as the veterans of the army of Italy could have done.

The first object of attention was to collect a few boats, in order to send provisions to the island of Lobau ; and the exertions to supply the army were attended with success.

Every endeavour was made to send boats with their rigging down the current from all parts of the Danube for the purpose of constructing fresh bridges ; and our efforts were not unavailing. The bridges were already restored, and the cavalry about to cross, when the Austrians again contrived to send boats loaded with stones down the stream, which broke them a second time. This fortunately occurred in the open day, and we were, therefore, enabled on our parts to send some skiffs after them, whose descent being much more rapid than the fragments of the bridge, the latter were secured, and brought to the left bank, from whence, by dint of considerable exertions, they were led back to the bridges. This painful labour would not have been attended with any successful result had we not been joined by a corps of twelve hundred sailors from Antwerp, who were commanded by naval officers. This corps was followed by a battalion of artisans of every trade, also belonging to the naval department; and we were saved by their timely assistance. The sailors were immediately united to the pontoniers; and a quantity of little skiffs, manned by a proportionate number of sailors, were kept up as cruisers on the river. These skiffs kept close to the sand-banks bordering the islands scattered over the Danube : but as soon as they descried a boat or raft coming down, they rowed up to it, and instantly boarded, and brought it to the river side; so that the very boats which had destroyed our bridges on the preceding day afforded us on the next the means of repairing them. From thenceforth they escaped all danger of being broken down, and we were enabled to send over to the right bank all the cavalry, the artillery, and whatever we could dispense with. The horses had lived upon the grass and leaves found in the island ever since the day of the engagement.

It was no small advantage to have restored the bridges, and secured them from further accident, by means of the skiffs manned by regular sailors, and formed into a stoccade, to protect them.

The Emperor sent the troops to the cantonments they had occupied previously to this disastrous operation, and left only Marshal Massena and his corps in the island. He was at a loss to account for the Austrians having neglected to bring all their artillery down to the bank of that arm of the Danube which separated them from the island, and keep up a constant firing of cannon, every shot of which would have told ; added to which, they could have done us the more harm, as we had no ammunition to return the fire, and we were in dense masses upon the island. We augured from this circumstance that they contemplated to cross the river at some point above Vienna.

The Emperor disposed his army in such a manner, as to be able to bring it together within twenty-four hours. He kept with him all the infantry that had recrossed from the island to the right bank, and made it go into camp: he attended to the re-organization of the artillery, and named on this occasion General La Riboissiere first inspector of that branch of service, in lieu of General Songis, who had been mortally wounded. Measures were also adopted for procuring remounts for the cavalry. All the orders which he had to issue on this subject were expedited in one night; and he considered the next morning of the means of preparing anew the materials requisite for a fresh passage across, which he expressed his determination to effect in the course of one month from the present time. On the former occasion he had only thrown one bridge over the arm of the Danube that separated him from the enemy, and he now resolved to build four, though he had not one of the boats which are indispensable for the construction of the three additional ones. He established in the island of Lobau the battalion of naval artificers, with the shipwrights of the same corps, who had arrived with them, and sent thither from Vienna timber of every dimension and quality.

In a very few days the keels were laid of all the boats he stood in need of, and the boats were soon launched in one of the small arms running through the island. This work was very creditable to the shipwrights of the naval department. Whilst these pontoons were preparing in the island of Lobau, the Emperor was causing a bridge upon piles to be constructed, which extended the whole width of the Danube. General Bertrand, his aide-de-camp, was the officer who executed this splendid work. Bertrand was one of the best engineer officers that France could boast of since the days of Vauban: he established himself on the river side, with all the artillery officers and the battalions of sappers.

The exhaustless arsenal of Vienna had supplied us with a profusion of timber, originally destined for repairing the bridges of Vienna and of Krems ; and also with cordage and iron, and with forty engines to drive the piles in.

All this was brought down to Ebersdorf; and the environs of that village were transformed into docks, not unlike those of an extensive seaport. The driving in of the piles, the sawing of wood and boards, and the building of boats, all went on at the same time. Whilst every means were preparing to cross the river, attention was paid to defending the island of Lobau ; an object which was also to afford the means of protecting the passage to the left bank. Epaulements and embrasures were raised along the arm of the Danube, and lined with Austrian artillery, taken from the arsenal at Vienna, of which General La Riboissiere had collected all the workmen, whose condition being extremely wretched, they had consented to assist in the labour for the sake of the soldier's ration. This part of the military administration performed wonders, and set on foot an immense number of guns of all sizes. The activity displayed in raising resources would almost appear incredible to those who witnessed it; still less can justice be done to it by any description, which, however correct, would not escape the charge of being deemed exaggerated.

Whilst the Emperor was urging on the works at the arsenals and in the docks, he bent his mind to recomposing the personnel of his army so effectually, that it should no longer be exposed to the consequences of any fatal engagement like that of the 22nd of May, nor even of any doubtful one. The ideas to which his inventive genius gave birth, the obstacles which his mind had to overcome, exceed all belief. He first sent orders to the Viceroy, who commanded the army of Italy, consisting of four complete divisions, to bring it over without the smallest delay ; an order which was punctually obeyed. He also sent word to General Marmont, who commanded in Dalmatia, to come and join him immediately: this general had two divisions under his orders, and could only reach Vienna after surmounting many and serious difficulties. The disaster at Essling had been carefully made known in every direction by the agents of Austria, who neglected none of the means best calculated to keep up the hopes of the subjects of that monarchy : so that General Marmont, when he penetrated through those provinces, was every where obstructed by insurrections, or by the ill-will of the inhabitants. Nothing short of a feeling much more powerful than the mere love of duty could have enabled him to conquer all those obstacles, and to bring up a well-conditioned body of veterans. This service was duly appreciated by the Emperor, who was partial to Marmont, and was glad of an opportunity of expressing his satisfaction at what he had done.

At the commencement of the campaign he had sent French marshals or generals to command the contingents of the several confederated princes: this had been agreed upon by common consent, without any derogation from the authority vested in the generals of those princes, who had the controul over whatever related to military details and to the discipline of the troops. He had placed his own generals at the head of those contingents for no other reason than that they were more accustomed to his manner of enforcing obedience, and that they should correspond with the Prince of Neufchatel, according to the practice of the other French officers. Marshal Bernadotte had accordingly been sent to take the command of the Saxon army, consisting of two fine divisions of infantry and one of cavalry. The Saxon corps covered Dresden previously to the Archduke Charles's army being joined by the Austrian forces in Bohemia: but from the moment of their junction, and of Saxony having no longer any attack to apprehend, except from a few partisans, who made occasional inroads into that country, the Emperor had recalled that Saxon corps, which was the last to join him, in consequence of the circuit it had to make. He likewise urged the King of Bavaria to make some further efforts, of a more decisive character than heretofore, against the Tyrolese insurgents, so as to enable him to withdraw a Bavarian division to his assistance in case of need. All necessary orders for reframing the personnel of his army were both given and dispatched on the first days following the 22nd of May. Nothing more remained to be done, except to attend to the comfort of the troops he had with him, and prevent their numbers from becoming imperceptibly reduced, as it usually happens in war under trying and difficult circumstances. His attention was particularly directed to the hospitals, and he had them regularly visited by his aides-de-camp. After the battle he made them the bearers of a gratuity of sixty francs, in crown pieces, to each wounded soldier, and from one hundred and fifty to fifteen hundred francs to the officers, according to their respective ranks: he sent still larger sums to the wounded generals. The Emperor's aides-de-camp had for several days no other occupation to attend to. I can assert, as far as concerned myself, that I was constantly engaged during forty-eight hours in making the distribution to three of the hospitals. The Emperor had given orders that this should be done in the manner most calculated to soothe the feelings of the wounded. The visits to the hospitals, for example, were made by the aide-de-camp in full uniform, accompanied by the war commissary, the officers of health, and the director. The secretary of the hospital went before them with the register of the sick in hand, and named the men, as well as the regiment to which they belonged: after which, twelve five-franc pieces were placed at the head of the bed of each wounded soldier ; this sum being taken out of baskets full of money, carried by four men dressed in the Emperor's livery. These gratuities were not drawn from the military chest, but entirely supplied out of the Emperor's private purse.

A collection might have been made, no less valuable as materials for the Emperor's history, than as redundant to his glory, of the many expressions of gratitude uttered by these gallant fellows, as well as of the language in which they gave vent to their love and attachment to his person. Some of the men could not hope to spend those twelve crown pieces ; but, at the very brink of death, the tears running down their cheeks strongly indicated how feelingly alive they were to this mark of their General's remembrance. At no time did I feel so enthusiastic an admiration for the Emperor as when he was attending to the wants of his soldiers: his heart expanded at hearing of any service rendered to them, or of his being the object of their affection. He has been accused of having been unsparing of their lives ; but they never encountered any danger without having him at their head: he was every thing at once ; and nothing but the basest malevolence can calumniate the sentiment which was nearest his heart, and which is one of the numberless claims which his immense labours have given him to the homage of posterity. He was beloved by the soldiers, and he loved them in return. It is impossible they could have for him a greater attachment than what he entertained for them.

He passed the month of June in unceasing occupations, and had not removed from Ebersdorf, where he proposed to remain until the moment of passing the Danube, when other business suddenly called him away, and compelled him to transfer his head-quarters to Schonbrunn, his stay at Ebersdorf having been wholly occasioned by the conviction he felt that the enemy would not remain inactive; he was therefore desirous of being in readiness to avail himself of any chance that fortune might place within his grasp.

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