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Savary: Memoirs of the Duke of Rovigo
Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 12
The army is concentrated in the island of Lobau—Preparations for the attack— An Austrian flag of truce—Bridge made of a single piece—Violent storm—The Emperor is on horseback the whole night—Oudinot's corps commences the engagement.

In the afternoon of the 2nd of July the Emperor transferred his head-quarters from Schönbrunn to Ebersdorf, and ordered me to remove thither the whole of the baggage of the grand headquarters, and not to allow a single Frenchman to remain at Schönbrunn.

At daybreak of the 3rd July he mounted his horse, and issued directions for all his suite to repair to his tents, which were pitched in the island of Lobau.

Ever since the afternoon of the 2nd the troops had begun to arrive from all directions, a movement which was continued in the night of that day, on the 3rd, during that night also, and again on the 4th. They filed off on the two bridges in order to take up a position in the island of Lobau. A hundred and fifty thousand infantry, seven hundred and fifty pieces of cannon, and three hundred squadrons of cavalry, constituted the Emperor's army. The different corps were stationed in the island according to the order in which they were to cross the bridges of the last arm of the river, so as to avoid the confusion which their numbers might otherwise occasion.

General Oudinot was placed at the extreme right ; bellied him was the corps of Marshal Davout; on the left, in the rear of Massena's corps, was stationed the army of Italy, and close to it the corps of Marmont, recently arrived from Dalmatia, having on its left the Saxon corps under Bernadotte, which had just joined the army. My memory does not enable me to point out the position of the Wirtemburg troops, which, to the best of my recollection, were to come up as a corps of reserve.

The cavalry were stationed in the rear of the infantry ; but the island afforded such little space, that it was impossible for the different corps to move without coming into immediate contact with each other.

On the 4th the Emperor had the bridge thrown over at the same place where the first passage had been effected on the 20th of May; and Marshal Massena immediately took possession of the wood full of briers, which runs along the arm of the Danube at this point. This was not followed up by any other movement. The enemy, however, must have been put upon the alert by this operation, since they sent on the same day a general officer as a flag of truce, under some pretext or other, which I do not now recollect ; but, in reality, to ascertain what we were doing in the island. The flag of truce was brought into the presence of the Emperor, who ordered the handkerchief to be removed from his eyes, and said to him, " I suspect, Sir, the motive for which you have been sent here ; so much the worse for your general, if he does not know that I am to cross the Danube tomorrow with the troops you now behold. I have here a hundred and eighty thousand men: the days are long: woe betide the vanquished! I cannot allow you to return to your army ; you shall be conducted to your family in Vienna, and have to wait there the issue of the event about to take place.,'

It was known to the Emperor that this general, whose name was Wolf, was the brother of Madame de Kaunitz, one of the ladies who had not had time to quit Vienna on our approach, and he had him accordingly taken to her residence. It is quite unaccountable that the Austrian army, in the heart of their own country, should have been so far ignorant of our movements, as to neglect the precaution of bringing down the troops from Presburg, which place they ought to have left on the 2nd July at latest. Fortune, however, rewarded the activity and exertions of the Emperor, and decided that his army should be the first in readiness to act. The island of Lobau was a second valley of Jehosaphat: men who had been six years asunder, met here on the bank of the Danube for the first time since that long separation. The troops of General Marmont, which had arrived from Dalmatia, were composed of corps that had been out of our sight since the days of the camp at Boulogne.

All was in readiness in the afternoon of the 4th July ; and yet no unusual movement was perceivable on the opposite bank. The day was no sooner closed than the Emperor, who had mounted his horse, superintended in person the operations towards the right, where General Oudinot's corps was stationed. Every thing was so well prepared, that in an instant the bridge was thrown across ; the troops comprising that corps passed over, and occupied the point which they were directed to carry. I have omitted to state that, on the morning of the 4th, a second bridge, intended for the corps of Marshal Massena, was thrown across at about two hundred toises below the one which had been used for the first passage. The Austrians cannonaded this bridge the whole day, without doing injury to a single man or boat. This bridge had been constructed with the materials which remained on our hands after every other work had been completed.

As soon as the bridge intended for the corps of General Oudinot was firmly established, the Emperor ordered the three bridges to be thrown across which had been kept together in the sewer I have lately mentioned. As the corps of sailors was no longer required for the preservation of the great bridge of boats, the services of the men had been applied to these several bridges ; so that we were not at a loss for hands in any quarter.

The bridge of a single piece was brought out first, being preceded by a small skiff maimed by athletic pontoniers. They were provided with an anchor, which they carried over to the opposite bank, and along which other pontoniers hauled the bridge upon which they were mounted. The tackling which was to secure it had been prepared beforehand, and nothing more was now to be done than to make it fast at both ends ; a business altogether so well managed, that, ten minutes after the bridge had been brought out of the sewer, the troops were already crossing it.

The two other bridges were thrown over at the same moment, but took a little longer to get in readiness: these operations, however, succeeded at the appointed time. The enemy had at first scarcely perceived them. A violent storm came on that night, which completely drenched every one ; and the guards had taken shelter from the rain, which fell in torrents, and with so much violence, that no work would have been done had not the Emperor been present to stimulate the men. He was on foot on the river side listening to what was going forward on the opposite bank, and looking in person after the pontoniers, who, however, recognised him in the dark: he was as much drenched as if he had been dipped in the Danube. To this storm, accompanied with lightning and thunder, was added the loud roar of that immense artillery which lined the batteries along the river: they kept up for two hours a continual discharge of balls, howitzers, and grape-shot against the enemy's shore; by which means our troops were enabled to effect a landing without encountering the slightest obstacle.

When all the bridges bad been thrown across the Emperor gave directions for the troops to pass ; and whilst they were filing off he retired to take a little rest, having been the whole night on horseback exposed to that heavy storm. He had only with him the Viceroy of Italy, the Prince of Neufchatel, and myself. Shortly afterwards, towards five o'clock in the morning, he again mounted his horse, crossed over to the left bank, and began to remodel the order of battle of his army, which, after it had crossed over, was arranged as follows:

Massena on the left, with Molitor, Boudet, Legrand, and Carra-Saint-Cyr under his orders.

Bernadotte, with the Saxons, on his right ; Oudinot, again on the right of the latter ; and, lastly, Marshal Davout on the extreme right, with Friant, Gudin, and Morand's division.

In the second line was the Viceroy on the left, with the four divisions of the army of Italy ; and Marmont, with two divisions, on his right.

The reserve was formed of the foot-guards, consisting of six regiments.

In the third line came the cavalry, composed of four divisions of light-horse, three of dragoons, and three of cuirassiers ; the guards, forming four regiments, and the Saxon cavalry.

The first movement made by this immense army after having accomplished the passage, that is to say, at the hour of ten in the morning, was to alter its front on its extreme left wing, and bring the right wing forward. This movement took up a considerable time. The right had upwards of two leagues to march before it could come into line. The Emperor was constantly going to and fro to reconnoitre the ground whilst his army was coming to its position, and he travelled that day over an incredible extent of ground. He was still in his wonted sound health, and could remain on horseback any length of time without experiencing any fatigue. Out of seventy-two hours of the 4th, 5th, and 6th July, he was at least sixty hours on horseback. It was two o'clock in the afternoon before his army could complete its movement, or he could make it march forward. He expected to meet some obstacles in the plain on the other side of the Danube, such as closed redoubts, which would have prevented his columns from deploying ; instead of which, every thing retreated before him, and he did not lose a single man on the only occasion when he might have been attacked with advantage, which was at the passage of the bridges. He expressed his astonishment at not finding the Austrian army, and at being thus allowed to overcome so many difficulties without any resistance being offered to him. We were not yet quite certain of the determination taken by the Archduke's army at Presburg. The Emperor had calculated upon the probability of its having rejoined the Archduke Charles, whom he supposed acquainted with the fact of his having crossed the Danube. As soon as the army was in readiness, he made it march forward ; and it was four o'clock in the afternoon before he could come in sight of the Austrian army, which had not stirred from its position at Wagram. We then learned, for the first time, that it had not been joined by the corps which was at Presburg. As, however, such a junction could not now be effected without going a great way round, the Emperor no longer bestowed a thought upon that corps, but bent his whole mind upon directing the attack against the Archduke Charles, whose position, however excellent in other respects, was too extended not to present some weak points to his assailant.

Towards six o'clock in the evening the cannonading commenced in the centre of the two armies: our right was still advancing, because the enemy's left yielded a little ground, so that the night passed over without any important occurrence.

Our left had a trifling encounter with the enemy's right: the only object on either side was to take up a position for the next day. In the centre, however, matters took a more serious turn: the Emperor, seeing the hostile army so near, attempted to debouch by the centre, in order to reach, if possible, the plateau upon which the Austrian army was stationed, and establish himself there; though he had not determined to persist unless he saw a good chance of succeeding.

The troops were allowed a moment's rest. As the point at which General Oudinot was placed was the most in advance, he was the first in readiness to commence the attack ; and a division of the army of Italy was brought up to support him. The Emperor had ordered both columns to attack at the same moment; but as the division of the army of Italy had a somewhat longer march to perform, they did not ascend the plateau together. General Oudinot's division first made its appearance on the crest, from whence it was almost immediately driven back, and compelled to retreat in great confusion; which was, however, soon repaired, by the bringing up of some cavalry to rally the soldiers, who, it should be said to their credit, instantly resumed their ranks, notwithstanding the fire of the enemy's artillery.

The division of the army of Italy was not more successful; it was headed by the 106th regiment, which had no sooner shown itself on the plateau than it was charged and driven back close under the fire of our artillery, on which occasion the regiment lost one of its eagles.

The Emperor was present when the confusion occurred, and would not follow up those attacks, because the night was approaching, and some decisive event would necessarily take place on the morrow. Experience had already told us that the loss we suffered in the evening of the 21st of May had had a powerful influence over the battle of the 22nd. The Emperor therefore ordered that a position should be taken up, and that hostilities should cease, in order that the army might pass the night undisturbed. He established his bivouac between the grenadiers and the foot-chasseurs of the guard, whom he had brought up to the first line; and he summoned to his presence the generals who held the chief commands of the several corps, and passed a great part of the night in conferring with them respecting the events likely to occur on the following day.

On the day previous to our crossing the Danube Marshal Massena had had a fall from his horse, which obliged him to be conveyed in a calash to the field of battle. The Emperor was desirous of giving him a successor, but the marshal intreated he would not: the Emperor, however, foresaw that on so busy a day Marshal Massena could not move in a calash in every direction where a horse might take him, and he placed one of his aides-de-camp by his side.

The Emperor had at first made choice of me for that purpose, and even mentioned it to me, although I had to perform M. de Caulaincourt's duties, and was much wanted near his person ; but being anxious not to disoblige Marshal Massena, who would then have given up the command of his corps, he at last determined to send Reille, who had been the marshal's aide-de-camp, and was accustomed to obey him, in order that the marshal might have some confidential officer near his person.

The corps of Marshal Massena was not yet in line with us. The Emperor, on sending the marshal back to his troops, desired him to bring them up the next morning to join the grand army.

He sent off all the general officers in succession to their respective corps: Marshal Davout alone remained with him the latter part of the night.

The plain on which the army was bivouacking was so barren of trees and houses, that not a single light was to be seen from the right to the left of it. There was great difficulty in finding a couple of trusses of straw and some fragments of doors to light a small fire for the Emperor's use: every one slept wrapped up in his cloak, and a bitter cold was felt the whole night.

I passed it on my legs near the fire, because the Emperor had directed me to be careful that answers should be given to the officers and orderlies who, under such circumstances, go over the lines during the whole night, mostly in search of the Emperor and of the generals commanding the several corps of the army: on the eve of a battle he was mindful of the smallest details, and would not allow any one to pass without receiving the information sought for.

He slept but little that night. I had placed myself before him to screen his eyes from the blaze with the skirts of my cloak ; but whether he felt cold, or that his mind was two much engaged, he was up before daylight; but he did not order the troops to arms until four o'clock in the morning of that day, the 6th of July, 1809.

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