Weather in War

IT is not very flattering to that glory-loving, battle-seeking creature, Man, that his best-arranged schemes for the destruction of his fellows should often be made to fail by the condition of the weather. More or less have the greatest of generals been “ servile to all the skyey influences.” Upon the state of the atmosphere frequently depends the ability of men to fight, and military hopes rise and fall with the rising and falling of the metal in the thermometer’s tube. Mercury governs Mars, A hero is stripped of his plumes by a tempest, and his laurels fly away on the invisible wings of the wind, and are seen no more forever. Empires fall because of a heavy fall of snow. Storms of rain have more than once caused monarchs to cease to reign. A hard frost, a sudden thaw, a “ hot spell,” a “cold snap,” a contrary wind, a long drought, a storm of sand, — all these things have had their part in deciding the destinies of dynasties, the fortunes of races, and the fate of nations. Leave the weather out of history, and it is as if night were left out of the day, and winter out of the year. Americans have fretted a little because their “ Grand Army ” could not advance through mud that came up to the horses’ shoulders, and in which even the seven-league boots would have stuck, though they had been worn as deftly as Ariel could have worn them. They talked as if no such thing had ever before been known to stay the march of armies ; whereas all military operations have, to a greater or a lesser extent, depended for their issue upon the softening or the hardening of the earth, or upon the clearing or the clouding of the sky. The elements have fought against this or that conqueror, or would-be conqueror, as the stars in their courses fought against Sisera ; and the Kishon is not the only river that has through its rise put an end to the hopes of a tyrant. The condition of rivers, which must be owing to the condition of the weather, has often colored events for ages, perhaps forever. The melting of the snows of the Pyrenees, causing a great rise of the rivers of Northern Spain, came nigh bringing ruin upon Julius Cæsar himself; and nothing but the feeble character of the opposing general saved him from destruction.

The preservation of Greece, with all its incalculable consequences, must be Credited to the weather. The first attempt to conquer that country, made by the Persians, failed because of‘ a storm that disabled their fleet. Mardonius crossed the Hellespont twelve or thirteen years before that feat was accomplished by Xerxes, and he purposed marching as far as Athens, His army was not unsuccessful, but off Mount Athos the Persian fleet was overtaken by a storm, which destroyed three hundred ships and twenty thousand men. This compelled him to retreat, and the Greeks gained time to prepare for the coming of their enemy. But for that storm, Athens would have been taken and destroyed, the Persians having an especial grudge against the Athenians because of their part in the taking and burning of Sardis; and Athens was destined to become Greece for all after-time, so that her as yet dim light could not have been quenched without darkening the whole world. When Xerxes himself entered Europe, and was apparently about to convert Hellas into a satrapy, it was a storm, or a brace of storms, that saved that country from so sad a fate, and preserved it for the welfare of all after generations of men. The Great King, in the hope of escaping “ the unseen atmospheric enemies which howl around that formidable promontory,” had caused Mount Athos to be cut through, but, as the historian observes, “the work of destruction to his fleet was only transferred to the opposite side of the intervening Thracian sea.” That fleet was anchored on the Magnesian coast, when a hurricane came upon it, known to the people of the country as the Hellespontias, and which blew right upon the shore. For three days this wind continued to blow, and the Persians lost four hundred warships, many transports and provision craft, myriads of men, and an enormous amount of matériel. The Grecian fleet, which had fled before that of Persia, now retraced its course, believing that the latter was destroyed, and would have fled again but for the arts and influence of Themistocles. The sea-fights of Artemisium followed, in which the advantage was, though not decisively, with the Greeks; and that they finally retreated was owing to the success of the Persians at Thermopylæ. Between the first and second battle of Artemisium the Persians suffered from another storm, which inflicted great losses upon them. These disasters to the enemy greatly encouraged the Greeks, who believed that they came directly from the gods; and they made it possible for them to fight the naval battle of Salamis, and to win it. So great was the alarm of Xerxes, who thought that the victors would sail to the Hellespont, and destroy the bridge be had thrown over that strait, that he ordered his still powerful fleet to hasten to its protection, He himself fled by land, but on his arrival at the Hellespont he found that the bridge had been destroyed by a storm ; and he must have been impressed as deeply as Napoleon was in this century, that the elements had leagued themselves with his mortal enemies. After his flight, and the withdrawal of his fleet from the war, the Persians had not a chance left, and the defeat of his lieutenant Mardonius, at Platæa, was of the nature ot a foregone conclusion.

It is not possible to exaggerate the importance of the assistance which the Greeks received from the storms mentioned, and it is not strange that they were lavish in their thanks and offerings to Poseidon the Saviour, or that they continued piously to express their gratitude in later days. Mankind at large have reason to be thankful for the occurrence of those storms ; for if they had not happened, Greece must have been conquered, and all that she has been to the world would have been that world’s loss. It was not until after the overthrow of the Persians that Athens became the home of science, literature, art, and commerce ; and if Athens had been removed from Greece, there would have been little of Hellenic genius left for the delight of future days. Not only was most of that which is known as Greek literature the production of the years that followed the failure of Xerxes, but the success of the Greeks was the means of preserving all of their earlier literature. The Persians were not barbarians, and, had they achieved their purpose, they might have promoted civilization in Europe; but that civilization would have been Asiatic in its character, and it might have been as fleeting as the labors of the Carthaginians in Europe and Africa. Nor would they have felt any interest in the preservation of the works of those Greeks who wrote before the Maratlionian time, which they would have regarded with that contempt with which most conquerors look upon the labors of those whom they have enslaved. That most brilliant of ages, the age of Pericles, could never have come to pass under the dominion of Persia; and the Greeks of Europe, when ruled by satraps from Susa, would have been of as little weight in the ancient world as, under that kind of rule, were the Greeks of Ionia. All future history was involved in the decision of the Persian contest, and we may well feel grateful that the event was not left for the hands of men to decide, but that the winds and the waves of the Grecian seas so far equalized the power of the combatants as to enable the Greeks, who fought for us as well as for themselves, to roll back the tide of Oriental conquest. We might not have had even the Secession War, if there had been no storms in the Thracian seas in a summer the roses of which perished more than two thousand three hundred years ago.1

The modern contest which most resembles that which was waged between the Greeks and the Persians is that war between England and Spain which came to a crisis in 1588, when the Spanish Armada was destroyed by the tempests of the Northern seas, after having been well mauled by the English fleet. The English seamen behaved well, as they always do; but the Spanish loss would not have been irreparable, if the weather had remained mild. What men had began so well storms completed. A contrary wind prevented the Spanish Admiral from pursuing his course in a direction that would have proved favorable to his second object, which was the preservation of his fleet. He was forced to stand to the North, so that he rushed right into the jaws of destruction. He encountered in those remote and almost unknown waters tempests that were even more merciless than the fighting ships and fireships of the island heretics. Philip II. bore his loss with the same calmness that he bore the victory of Lepauto. As, on hearing of the latter, he merely said, “ Don John risked a great deal,” so, when tidings came to him that the Invincible Armada had been found vincible, he quietly remarked, “ I sent it out against men, and not against the billows.” Down to the very last year, it had been the common, and all but universal opinion, that, if the Spaniards had succeeded in landing in England, they would have been beaten, so resolute were the English in their determination to oppose them, and so extensive were their preparations for resistance. Elizabeth at Tilbury had been one of the stock pieces of history, and her words of defiance to Parma and to Spain have been ringing through the world ever since they were uttered after the Armada had ceased to threaten her throne. We now know that the common opinion on this subject, like the common opinion respecting some other crises, was all wrong, a delusion and a sham, and based on nothing but plausible lies. Mr. Motley has put men right on this point, as on some others ; and it is impossible to read his brilliant and accurate narrative of the events of 1588 without coming to the conclusion that Elizabeth was in the summer of that year in the way to receive punishment for the cowardly butchery which had been perpetrated, in her name, if not by her direct orders, in the great hall of Fotheringay. She was saved by those winds which helped the Dutch to blockade Parma’s army, in the first instance, and then by those Orcadian tempests which smote the Armada, and converted its haughty pride into a by-word and a scoffing. The military preparations of England were of the feeblest character; and it is not too much to say, that the only parallel case of Governmental weakness is that which is afforded by the American history of last spring, when we had not an efficient company or a seaworthy armed ship with which to fight the Secessionists, who had been openly making their preparations for war for months. The late Mr. Richard Rush mentions, in the second series of his “ Residence at the Court of London,” that at a dinner at the Marquis of Lansdowne’s, in 1820, the conversation turned on the Spanish Armada; and he was surprised to find that most of the company, which was composed of members of Parliament and other public men, were of the opinion that the Spaniards, could they have been landed, would have been victorious. With genuine American faith in English invincibility, he wondered what the company could mean, and also what the English armies would have been about. It was not possible for any one then to have said that there were no English armies at that time to be about anything; but now we see that those armies were but imaginary bodies, having not even a paper existence. Parma, who was even an abler diplomatist than soldier, — that is, he was the most accomplished liar in an age that was made up of falsehood, — had so completely gulled the astute Elizabeth that she was living in the fools’ paradise; and so little did she and most of her counsellors expect invasion, that a single Spanish regiment of infantry might, had it then been landed, have driven the whole organized force of England from Sheerness to Bristol. Those Englishmen who sneer so bitterly at the conduct of our Government but a year ago would do well to study closely the history of their own country in 1588, in which they will find much matter calculated to lessen their conceit, and to teach them charity. The Lincoln Government of the United States had been in existence but little more than thirty days when it found itself involved in war with the Rebels; the Elizabethan Government had been in existence for thirty years when the Armada came to the shores of England, to the astonishment and dismay of those “ barons bold and statesmen old in bearded majesty ” whom we have been content to regard as the bravest and the wisest men that have lived since David and Solomon. Elizabeth, who had a beard that vied with Burleigh’s, — the evidence of her virgin innocence, — felt every hair of her head curling from terror when she learned how she had been “ done ” by Philip’s lieutenant; and old Burleigh must have thought that his mistress was in the condition of Jockey of Norfolk’s master at Boswortk, — “bought and sold.” Fortunately for both old women, and for us all, the summer gales of 1588 were adverse to the Spaniards, and protected Old England. We know not whence the wind eometh nor whither it goeth, but we know that its blows have often been given with effect on human affairs; and it never blew with more usefulness, since the time when it used up the ships of Xerxes, than when it sent the ships of Philip to join “the treasures that old Ocean hoards.” Had England then been conquered by Spain, though but temporarily, Protestant England would have ceased to exist, and the current of history would have been as emphatically changed as was the current of the Euphrates under the labors of the soldiers of Cyrus. We should have had no Shakspeare, or a very different Shakspeare from the one that we have; and the Elizabethan age would have presented to after centuries an appearance altogether unlike that which now so impressively strikes the mind. As that was the time out of which all that is great and good in England and America has proceeded, in letters and in arms, in religion and in polities, we can easily understand how vast must have been the change, had not the winds of the North been so unpropitious to the purposes of the King of the South.

The English are very proud of the victories of Crécy and Agincourt, as well they may be; for, though gained in the course of as unjust and unprovoked and cruel wars as ever were waged even by Englishmen, they are as splendid specimens of slaughter-work as can be found in the history of “ the Devil’s code of honor.” But they owe them both to the weather, which favored their ancestors, and was as unfavorable to the ancestors of the French. At Crecy the Italian cross-bow men in the French army not only came into the field worn down by a long march on a hot day in August, but immediately after their arrival they were exposed to a terrible thunder-storm, in which the rain fell in absolute torrents, wetting the strings of their bows, and rendering them unserviceable. The English archers, who carried the far more useful long-bow, kept their bows in their eases until the rain ceased, and then took them out dry, and in perfect condition ; besides which, even if the strings of the long-bows had been wetted, they could not have been materially injured, as they were thin and pliable, while those of the cross-bows were so thick and unpliable that they could not be tightened or slackened at pleasure. In after-days this defect in the cross-bow was removed, but it existed in full force in 1346. When the battle began, the Italian quarrel was found to be worthless, because of the strings of the arbalists having absorbed so much moisture, while the English arrows came upon the poor Genoese in frightful showers, throwing them into a panic, and inaugurating disaster to the French at the very beginning of the action. The day was lost from that moment, and there was not a leader among the French capable of restoring it.

At Agincourt the circumstances were very different, but quite as fatal to the French. That battle was fought on the 25th of October, 1415, and the French should have won it according to all the rules of war, — but they did not win it, because they had too much valor and too little sense. A cautious coward makes a better soldier than a valiant fool, and the boiling bravery of the French has lost them more battles than any other people have lost through timidity. Henry V.’s invasion of France was the most wicked attack that ever was made even by England on a neighboring nation, and it was meeting with its proper reward, when French folly ruined everything. The French overtook the English on the 24th of October, and by judicious action might have destroyed them, for they were by far the more numerous, — though most English authorities, with characteristic “ unveracity,” grossly exaggerate the inequality of numbers that really did exist between the two armies. On the night of the 24th the rain fell heavily, making the ground quite unfit for the operations of heavy cavalry, in which the strength of the French consisted, while the English had their incomparable archers, the worthy predecessors of the English infantry of to-day, one of whom was calculated to do more efficient service than could have been expected, as the circumstances of the field were, from ten knights cumbered with bulky mail. Sir Harris Nicolas, the most candid English historian of the battle, and who prepared a very useful, but unreadable volume concerning it, after speaking of the bad arrangements adopted by the French, proceeds to say, — “The inconveniences under which the French labored were much increased by the state of the ground, which was not only soft from heavy rains, but was broken up by their horses during the preceding night, the weather having obliged the valets and pages to keep them in motion. Thus the statement of French historians may readily be credited, that, from the ponderous armor with which the men-atarms were enveloped, and the softness of the ground, it was with the utmost difficulty they could either move or lift their weapons, notwithstanding their lances had been shortened to enable them to fight closely, — that the horses at every step sunk so deeply into the mud, that it required great exertion to extricate them, — and that the narrowness of the place caused their archers to be so crowded as to prevent them from drawing their bows.” Michelet’s description of the day is the best that can be read, and he tells us, that, when the signal of battle was given by Sir Thomas Erpingham, the English shouted, but “ the French army, to their great astonishment, remained motionless. Horses and knights appeared to be enchanted, or struck dead in their armor. The fact was, that their large battle-steeds, weighed down with their heavy riders and lumbering caparisons of iron, had all their feet completely sunk in the deep wet clay; they were fixed there, and could only struggle out to crawl on a few steps at a walk.” Upon this mass of chivalry, all stuck in the mud, the cloth-yard shafts of the English yeomen fell like hailstones upon the summer corn. Some few of the French made mad efforts to charge, but were annihilated before they could reach the English line. The English advanced upon the “ mountain of men and horses mixed together,” and butchered their immovable enemies at their leisure. Plebeian hands that day poured out patrician blood in torrents. The French fell into a panic, and those of their number who could run away did so. It was the story of Poitiers over again, in one respect; for the Black Prince owed his victory to a panic that befell a body of sixteen thousand French,, who scattered and fled without having struck a blow. Agincourt was fought on St, Crispin’s day, and a precious strapping the French got. The English found that there was “ nothing like leather.” It was the last battle in which the oriflamme was displayed ; and well it might be; for, red as it was, it must have blushed a deeper red over the folly of the French commanders.

The greatest battle ever fought on British ground, with the exceptions of Hastings and Bannockburn, —and greater even than Hastings, if numbers are allowed to count, — was that of Towton, the chief action in the Wars of the Roses; and its decision was due to the effect of the weather on the defeated army. It was fought on the 29th of March, 1461, which was the Palm-Sunday of that year. Edward, Earl of March, eldest son of the Duke of York, having made himself King of England, advanced to the North to meet the Lancastrian army. That army was sixty thousand strong, while Edward IV. was at the head of less than fortynine thousand. After some preliminary fighting, battle was joined on a plain between the villages of Saxton and Towton, in Yorkshire, and raged for ten hours. Palm-Sunday was a dark and tempestuous day, with the snow falling heavily. At first the wind was favorable to the Lancastrians, but it suddenly changed, and blew the snow right into their faces. This was bad enough, but it was not the worst, for the snow slackened their bowstrings, causing their arrows to fall short of the Yorkists, who took them from the ground, and sent them back with fatal effect. The Lancastrian leaders then sought closer conflict, but the Yorkists had already achieved those advantages which, under a good general, are sure to prepare the way to victory. It was as if the snow had resolved to give success to the pale rose. That which Edward had won he was resolved to increase, and his dispositions were of the highest military excellence; but it is asserted that he would have been beaten, because of the superiority of the enemy in men. but for the coming up, at the eleventh hour, of the Duke of Norfolk, who was the Joseph Johnston of 1461, doing for Edward what the Secessionist Johnston did for Beauregard in 1861. The Lancastrians then gave way, and retreated, at first in orderly fashion, but finally falling into a panic, when they were cut down by thousands. They lost twenty-eight thousand men, and the Yorkists eight thousand. This was a fine piece of work for the beginning of Passion-Week, bloody laurels gained in civil conflict being substituted for palm-branches ! No such battle was ever fought by Englishmen in foreign lands. This was the day when

Wharfe ran red with slaughter,
Gathering in its guilty flood
The carnage, and the ill-spilt blood
That forty thousand, lives could yield.
Crécy was to this but sport,
Poitiers but a pageant vain,
And the work of Agincourt
Only like a tournament.
Half the blood which there was spent
Had sufficed to win again
Anjou and ill-yielded Maine,
Normandy and Aquitaine.”

Edward IV., it should seem, was especially favored by the powers of the air; for, if he owed victory at Towton to wind and snow, he owed it to a mist at Barnet. This last action was fought on the 14th of April, 1471, and the prevalence of the mist, which was very thick, enabled Edward so to order bis military work as to counterbalance the enemy’s superiority in numbers. The mist was attributed to the arts of Friar Bungay, a famous and most rascally “ nigromancer.” The mistake made by Warwick’s men, when they thought Oxford’s cognizance, a star paled with rays, was that of Edward, which was a sun in full glory, (the White Rose en soleil,) and so assailed their own friends, and created a panic, was in part attributable to the mist, which prevented them from seeing clearly; and this mistake was the immediate occasion of the overthrow of the army of the Red Rose. That Edward was enabled to fight the Battle of Barnet with any hope of success was also owing to the weather. Margaret of Anjou had assembled a force in France, Louis XI. supporting her cause, and this force was ready to sail in February, and by its presence in England victory would unquestionably have been secured for the Lancastrians. But the elements opposed themselves to her purpose with so much pertinacity and consistency that it is not strange that men should have seen therein the visible hand of Providence. Three times did she embark, but only to be driven back by the wind, and to suffer loss. Some of her party sought to persuade her to abandon the enterprise, as Heaven seemed to oppose it; but Margaret was a strong-minded woman, and would not listen to the suggestions of superstitious cowards. She sailed a fourth time, and held on in the. face of bad weather. Half a day of good weather was all that was necessary to reach England, but it was not until the end of almost the third week that she was able to effect a landing, and then at a point distant from Warwick. Had the Kingmaker been the statesman-soldier that he has had the Credit of being, he never would have fought Edward until he had been joined by Margaret; and he must have known that her non-arrival was owing to contrary winds, be having been himself a naval commander. But he acted like a knight-errant, not like a general, gave battle, and was defeated and slain, “ The Last of the Barons.” Having triumphed at Barnet, Edward marched to meet Margaret’s army, which was led by Somerset, and defeated it on the 4th of May, after a hardly-contested action at Tewkesbury. It was on that field that Prince Edward of Lancaster perished; and as his father, Henry VI., died a few days later, “ of pure displeasure and melancholy,” the line of Lancaster became extinct.

In justice to the memory of a monarch to whom justice has never been done, it should be remarked, in passing, that Edward IV. deserved the favors of Fortune, if talent for war insures success in war. He was, so far as success goes, one of the greatest soldiers that ever lived. He never fought a battle that he did not win, and he never won a battle without annihilating his foe. He was not yet nineteen when he commanded at Towton, at the head of almost fifty thousand men; and two months before be had gained the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, under circumstances that showed skilful generalship. No similar instance of precocity is to be found in the military history of mankind. His victories have been attributed to Warwick, but it is noticeable that he was as successful over Warwick as he had been over the Lancastrians, against whom Warwick originally fought. Barnet was, with fewer combatants, as remarkable an action as Towton; and at Mortimer’s Cross Warwick was not present, while he fought and lost the second battle of St. Alban’s seventeen days after Edward had won his first victory. Warwick was not a general, but a magnificent paladin, resembling much Cœur de Lion, and most decidedly out of place in the England of the last half of the fifteenth century. What is peculiarly remarkable in Edward’s case is this: he had received no military training beyond that which was common to all high-born youths in that age. The French wars had long been over, and what had happened in the early years of the Roses’ quarrel was certainly not calculated to make generals out of children. In this respect Edward stands quite alone in the list of great commanders. Alexander, Hannibal, the first Scipio Africanus, Pompeius, Don John of Austria, Condé, Charles XII., Napoleon, and some other young soldiers of the highest eminence, were either all regularly instructed in the military art, or succeeded to the command of veteran armies, or were advised and assisted by old and skilful generals. Besides, they were all older than Edward when they first had independent command. Gaston de Foix approaches nearest to the Yorkist king, but he gained only one battle, was older at Ravenna than Edward was at Towton, and perished in the hour of victory. Clive, perhaps, may be considered as equalling the Piantagenet king in original genius for war, but the scene of his actions, and the materials with which he wrought, were so very different from those of other youthful commanders, that no just comparison can be made between him and any one of their number.

The English have asserted that they lost the Battle of Falkirk, in 1746, because of the severity of a snow-storm that took place when they went into action, a strong wind blowing the snow straight into their faces; and one of the causes of the defeat of the Highlanders at Culloden, three months later, was another fall of snow, which was accompanied by wind that then blew into their faces. Fortune was impartial, and made the one storm to balance the other.

That the American army was not destroyed soon after the Battle of Long Island must be attributed to the foggy weather of the 29th of August, 1776. But for the successful retreat of Washington’s army from Long Island, on the night of the 29th-30th, the Declaration of Independence would have been made waste paper in “sixty days” after its adoption ; and that retreat could not have been made, bad there not been a dense fog under cover of which to make it, and to deter the enemy from action. “Washington and his whole army would have been slain or captured, could the British forces have had clear weather in which to operate. “ The fog which prevailed all this time,” says Irving, “ seemed almost Providential. While it hung over Long Island, and concealed the movements of the Americans, the atmosphere was clear on the New York side of the river. The adverse wind, too, died away, the river became so smooth that the rowboats could be laden almost to the gunwale ; and a favoring breeze sprang up for the sail-boats. The whole embarkation of troops, ammunition, provisions, cattle, horses, and carts, was happily effected, and by daybreak the greater part had safely reached the city, thanks to the aid of Glover’s Marblehead men. Scarce anything was abandoned to the enemy, excepting a few heavy pieces of artillery. At a proper time, Mifflin with his covering party left the lines, and effected a silent retreat to the ferry. Washington, though repeatedly entreated, refused to enter a boat until all the troops were embarked, and crossed the river with the last.” Americans should ever regard a fog with a certain reverence, for a fog saved their country in 1776.

That Poland was not restored to national rank by Napoleon I. was in some measure owing to the weather of the latter days of 1806. Those of the French officers who marched through the better portions of that country were for its restoration, but others who waded through its terrible mud took different ground in every sense. Hence there was a serious difference of opinion in the French councils on this vitally important subject, which had its influence on Napoleon’s mind. The severe winter-weather of 1806—7, by preventing the Emperor from destroying the Russians, which he was on the point of doing, was prejudicial to the interests of Poland ; for the ultimate effect was, to compel France to treat with Russia as equal with equal, notwithstanding the crowning victory of Friedland. This done, there was no present hope of Polish restoration, as Alexander frankly told the French Emperor that the world would not be large enough for them both, if he should seek to renew Poland’s rank as a nation. So far as the failure of the French in 1812 is chargeable upon the weather, the weather must be considered as having been again the enemy of Poland; for Napoleon would have restored that country, had he succeeded in his Russian campaign. Such restoration would then have been a necessity of his position. But it was not the weather of Russia that caused the French failure of 1812. That failure was all but complete before the invaders of Russia had experienced any very severe weather. The two powers that conquered Napoleon were those which General Von Knesebeek had pointed out to Alexander as sure to be too much for him, — Space and Time. The cold, frosts, and snows of Russia simply completed what those powers had so well begun, and so well done.

In the grand campaign of 1813, the weather bad an extraordinary influence on Napoleon’s fortunes, the rains of Germany really doing him far more mischief than he had experienced from the snows of Russia; and, oddly enough, a portion of this mischief came to him through the gate of victory. The war between the French and the Allies was renewed the middle of August, and Napoleon purposed crushing the Army of Silesia, under old Blücher, and marched upon it; but he was recalled by the advance of the Grand Army of the Allies upon Dresden; for, if that city had fallen into their hands, his communications with the Rhine would have been lost. Returning to Dresden, he restored affairs there on the 26th of August; and on the 27th, the Battle of Dresden was fought, the last of his great victories. It was a day of mist and rain, the mist being thick, and the rain heavy. Under cover of the mist, Murat surprised a portion of the Austrian infantry, and, as their muskets were rendered unserviceable by the rain, they fell a prey to his horse, who were assisted by infantry and artillery, more than sixteen thousand men being killed, wounded, or captured. The left wing of the Allies was annihilated. So far all was well for the Child of Destiny ; but Nemesis was preparing to exact her dues very swiftly. A victory can scarcely be so called, unless it be well followed up ; and whether Dresden should be another Austerlitz depended upon what might be done during the next two or three days. Napoleon did not act with his usual energy on that critical occasion, and in seven months he had ceased to reign. Why did he refrain from reaping the fruits of victory ? Because the weather, which had been so favorable to his fortunes on the 27th, was quite as unfavorable to his person. On that day he was exposed to the rain for twelve hours, and when he returned to Dresden, at night, he was wet to the skin, and covered with mud, while the water was streaming from his chapeau, which the storm had knocked out of a cocked hat. It was a peculiarity of Napoleon’s constitution, that he could not expose himself to damp without bringing on a pain in the stomach; and this pain seized him at noon on the 28th, when he had partaken of a repast at Pirna, whither he had gone in the course of his operations against the beaten enemy. This illness caused him to cease his personal exertions, but not from giving such orders as the work before him required him to issue. Perhaps it would have had no evil effect, had it not been, that, while halting at Pirna, news came to him of two great failures of distant armies, which led him to order the Young Guard to halt at that place, — an order that cost him his empire. One more march in advance, and Napoleon would have become greater than ever he had been ; but that march was not made, and so the fly ing foe was converted into a victorious army. For General Vandamme, who was at the head of the chief force of the pursuing French, pressed the Allies with energy, relying on the support of the Emperor, whose orders he was carrying out in the best manner. This led to the Battle of Kulm, in which Vandamme was defeated, and his army destroyed for the time, because of the overwhelming superiority of the enemy ; whereas that action would have been one of the complctest French victories, had the Young Guard been ordered to march from Pirna, according to the original intention. The roads were in a most frightful state, in consequence of the wet weather; but, as a victorious army always finds food, so it always finds roads over which to advance to the completion of its task, unless its chief has no head. Vandamme had a head, and thought he was winning the Marshal’s staff which Napoleon had said was awaiting him in the midst of the enemy’s retiring masses. So confident was he that the Emperor would support him, that he would not retreat while yet it was in his power to do so; and the consequence was that his corps d'armée was torn to pieces, and himself captured. Napoleon had the meanness to charge Vandamme with going too far and seeking to do too much, as he supposed he was slain, and therefore could not prove that he was simply obeying orders, as well as acting in exact accordance with sound military principles. That Vandamme was right is established by the fact that an order came from Napoleon to Marshal Mortier, who commanded at Pirna, to reinforce him with two divisions; but the order did not reach Mortier until after Vandamme had been defeated. Marshal Saint-Cyr, who was bound to aid Vandamme, was grossly negligent, and failed of his duty ; but even he would have acted well, had he been acting under the eye of the Emperor, as would have been the ease, had not the weather of the 27th broken down the health of Napoleon, and had not other disasters to the French, all caused by the same storm that had raged around Dresden, induced Napoleon to direct bis personal attention to points remote from the scene of his last triumph.2

When Napoleon was called from the pursuit of Blücher by Schwarzenberg’s advance upon Dresden, he confided the command of the army that was to act against that of Silesia to Marshal Macdonald, a brave and honest man, but a very inferior soldier, yet who might have managed to hold his own against so unscientific a leader as the fighting old hussar, had it not been for the terrible rainstorm that began on the night of the 25th of August. The swelling of the rivers, some of them deep and rapid, led to the isolation of the French divisions, while the rain was so severe as to prevent them from using their muskets. Animated by the most ardent hatred, the new Prussian levies, few of whom had been in service half as long as our volunteers, and many of whom were but mere boys, rushed upon their enemies, butchering them with butt and bayonet, and forcing them into the boiling torrent of the Katzbach. Puthod’s division was prevented from rejoining its comrades by the height of the waters, and was destroyed, though one of the best bodies in the French army. The state of the country drove the French divisions together on the same lines of retreat, creating immense confusion, and leading to the most serious losses of men and matériel. Macdonald’s blunder was in advancing after the storm began, and had lasted for a whole night. His officers pointed out the danger of his course, but he was one of those men who think, that, because they are not knaves, they can accomplish everything; but the laws of Nature no more yield to honest stupidity than to clever roguery. The Baron Von Muffling, who was present in Blücher’s army, says, that, when the French attempted to protect their retreat at the Katzbach with artillery, the guns stuck in the mud: and he adds, — “ The field of battle was so saturated by the incessant rain, that a great portion of our infantry left their shoes sticking in the mud, and followed the enemy barefoot.” Even a brook, called the Deichsel, was so swollen by the rain that the French could cross it at only one place, and there they lost wagons and guns. Old Blücher issued a thundering proclamation for the encouragement of his troops. “ In the battle on the Katzbach,” he said to them, “ the enemy came to meet you with defiance. Courageously, and with the rapidity of lightning, you issued from behind your heights. You scorned to attack them with musketry-fire : you advanced without a halt ; your bayonets drove them down the steep ridge of the valley of the raging Neisse and Katzbach. Afterwards you waded through rivers and brooks swollen with rain. You passed nights in mud. You suffered for want of provisions, as the impassable roads and want of conveyance hindered the baggage from following. You struggled with cold, wet, privations, and want of clothing; nevertheless you did not murmur, — with great exertions you pursued your routed foe, Receive my thanks for such laudable conduct. The man alone who unites such qualities is a true soldier. One hundred and three cannons, two hundred and fifty ammunition-wagons, the enemy’s field-hospitals, their fieldforges,'their flour-wagons, one general of division, two generals of brigade, a great number of colonels, staffand other officers, eighteen thousand prisoners, two eagles, and other trophies, are in your hands. The terror of your arms has so seized upon the rest of your opponents, that they will no longer bear the sight of your bayonets. You have seen the roads and fields between the Katzbach and the Bober: they bear the signs of the terror and confusion of your enemy.” The bluff old General, who at seventy had more “ dash ” than all the rest of the leaders of the Allies combined, and who did most of the real fighting business of “those who wished and worked” Napoleon’s fall, knew how to talk to soldiers, which is a quality not always possessed by even eminent commanders. Soldiers love a leader who can take them to victory, and then talk to them about it. Such a man is “ one of them.”

Napoleon never recovered from the effects of the losses he experienced at Kulm and on the Katzbach,— losses due entirely to the wetness of the weather, He went downward from that time with terrible velocity, and was in Elba the next spring, seven months after having been on the Elbe. The winter campaign of 1814, of which so much is said, ought to furnish some matter for a paper on weather in war; but the truth is, that that campaign was conducted politically by the Allies, There was never a time, after the first of February, when, if they had conducted the war solely on military principles, they could not have been in Paris in a fortnight.

Napoleon’s last campaign owed its lamentable decision to the peculiar character of the weather on its last two days, though one would not look for such a thing as severe weather in June, in Flanders. But so it was, and Waterloo would have been a French victory, and Wellington where Henry was when he ran against Eclipse, — nowhere, — if the rain that fell so heavily on the 17th of June had been postponed only twentyfour hours. Up to the afternoon of the 17th, the weather, though very warm, was dry, and the French were engaged in following their enemies. The Anglo-Dutch infantry had retreated from Quatre-Bras, and the cavalry was following, and was itself followed by the French cavalry, who pressed it with great audacity. “ The weather,” says Captain Siborne, “during the morning, had become oppressively hot; it was now a dead calm; not a leaf was stirring; and the atmosphere was close to an intolerable degree ; while a dark, heavy, dense cloud impended over the combatants. The 18th [English] Hussars were fully prepared, and awaited but the command to charge, when the brigade guns on the right commenced firing, for the purpose of previously disturbing and breaking the order of the enemy’s advance. The concussion seemed instantly to rebound through the still atmosphere, and communicate, as an electric spark, with the heavily charged mass above. A most awfully loud thunder-clap burst forth, immediately succeeded by a rain which has never, probably, been exceeded in violence even within the tropics. In a very few minutes the ground became perfectly saturated, — so much so, that it was quite impracticable for any rapid movement of the cavalry.” This storm prevented the French from pressing with due force, upon their retiring foes; but that would have been but a small evil, if the storm had not settled into a steady and heavy rain, which converted the fat Flemish soil into a mud that would have done discredit even to the “sacred soil” of Virginia, and the latter has the discredit of being the nastiest earth in America. All through the night the windows of heaven were open, as if weeping over the spectacle of two hundred thousand men preparing to butcher each other. Occasionally the rain fell in torrents, greatly distressing the soldiers, who had no tents. On the morning of the 18th the rain ceased, but the day continued cloudy, and the sun did not show himself until the moment before setting, when for an instant he blazed forth in full glory upon the forward movement of the Allies. One may wonder if Napoleon then thought of that morning “ Sun of Austerlitz,” which he had so often apostrophized in the days of his meridian triumphs. The evening sun of Waterloo was the practical antithesis to the rising sun of Austerlitz.

The Battle of Waterloo was not begun until about twelve o’clock, because of the state of the ground, which did not admit of the action of cavalry and artillery until several hours had been allowed tor its hardening. That inevitable delay was the occasion of the victory of the Allies; for, it the battle had been opened at seven o'clock, the French would have defeated Wellington’s army before a Prussian regiment could have arrived on the field. It has been said that the rain was as baneful to the Allies as to the French, as it prevented the early arrival of the Prussians ; but the remark comes only from persons who are not familiar with the details of the most momentous of modern pitched battles. Bülow’s Prussian corps, which was the first to reach the field, marched through Wavre in the forenoon of the 18th ; but no sooner had its advanced guard —an infantry brigade, a cavalry regiment, and one battery — cleared that town, than a fire broke out there, which greatly delayed the march of the remainder of the corps. There were many ammunition-wagons in the streets, and, fearful of losing them, and of being deprived of the means of fighting, the Prussians halted, and turned firemen for the occasion. This not only prevented most of the corps from arriving early on the right flank of the French, but it prevented the advanced guard from acting, Bülow being too good a soldier to risk so small-a force as that immediately at his command in an attack on the French army. It was not until about half-past one that the Prussians were first seen by the Emperor, and then at so great a distance that even with glasses it was difficult to say whether the objects looked at were men or trees. But for the bad weather, it is possible that Billow’s whole corps, supposing there had been no fire at Wavre, might have arrived within striking distance of the French army by two o'clock, P. M. ; but by that hour the battle between Napoleon and Wellington would have been decided, and the Prussians would have come up only to “ augment the slaughter,” had the ground been hard enough for operatious at an early hour of the day. As the battle was necessarily fought in the afternoon, because of the softness of the soil consequent on the heavy rains of the preceding day and night, there was time gained for the arrival of Bülow’s corps by four o’clock of the afternoon of the 18th. Against that corps Napoleon had to send almost twenty thousand of his men, and sixtysix pieces of cannon, all of which might have been employed agaiust Wellington’s army, had the battle been fought in the forenoon. As it was, that large force never fired a shot at the English. The other Prussian corps that reached the field toward the close of the day, Zieten’s and Pirch’s, did not leave Wavre until about noon. The coming up of the advanced guard of Zieten, but a short time before the close of the battle, enabled Wellington to employ the fresh cavalry of Vivian and Vandeleur at another part of his line, where they did eminent service for him at a time which is known as “ the crisis ” of the day. Taking all these facts into consideration, it must be admitted that there never was a more important rain-storm than that which happened on the 17th of June, 1815. Had it occurred twenty-four hours later, the destinies of the world might, and most probably would, have been completely changed; for Waterloo was one of those decisive battles which dominate the ages through their results, belonging to the same class of combats as do Marathon, Pharsalia, Lepanto, Blenheim, Yorktown, and Trafalgar. It was decided by water, and not by fire, though the latter was hot enough on that fatal field to satisfy the most determined lover of courage and glory.

If space permitted, we could bring forward many other facts to show the influence of weather on the operations of war. We could show that it was owing to changes of wind that the Spaniards failed to take Leyden, the fall of which into their hands would probably have proved fatal to the Dutch cause; that a sudden thaw prevented the French from seizing the Hague in 1672, and compelling the Dutch to acknowledge themselves subjects of Louis XIV.; that a change of wind enabled William of Orange to land in England, in 1688, without fighting a battle, when even victory might have been fatal to his purpose ; that Continental expeditions fitted out for the purpose of restoring the Stuarts to the British throne were more than once ruined by the occurrence of tempests ; that the defeat of our army at Germantown was in part due to the existence of a fog; that a severe storm prevented General Howe from assailing the American position on Dorchester Heights, and so enabled Washington to make that position too strong to be attacked with hope of success, whereby Boston was freed from the enemy’s presence ; that a heavy fall of rain, by rendering the River Catawba unfordable, put a stop, for a few days, to those movements by which Lord Cornwallis intended to destroy the army of General Morgan, and obtain compensation for Tarleton’s defeat at the Cowpens ; that an autumnal tempest compelled the same British commander to abandon a project of retreat from Yorktown, which good military critics have thought well conceived, and promising success ; that the severity of the winter of 1813 interfered effectively with the measures which Napoleon had formed with the view of restoring his affairs, so sadly compromised by his failure in Russia; that the “ misty, chilly, and insalubrious” weather of Louisiana, and its mud, had a marked effect on Sir Edward Pakenham’s army, and helped us to victory over one of the finest forces ever sent by Europe to the West; that in 1828 the Russians lost myriads of men and horses, in the Danubian country and its vicinity, through heavy rains and hard frosts; that the November hurricane of 1854 all but paralyzed the allied forces in the Crimea; — and many similar things that establish the helplessness of men in arms when the weather is adverse to them. But enough has been said to convince even the most skeptical that our Potomac Army did not stand alone in being forced to stand still before the dictation of the elements. Our armies, indeed, have suffered less from the weather than it might reasonably have been expected they would suffer, having simply been delayed at some points by the occurrence of winds and thaws; and over all such obstacles they are destined ultimately to triumph, as the Union itself will bid defiance to what Bacon calls “ the waves and weathers of time.”

  1. When the Athenian patriots under Thrasybulus occupied Phyle, they would have been destroyed by the forces of the Thirty Tyrants, had not a violent snow-storm happened, which compelled the besiegers to retreat. The patriots characterized this storm as Providential. Had the weather remained fair, the patriots would have been beaten, the democracy would not have been restored, and we should never have had the orations of Demosthenes: and perhaps even Plato might not have written and thought for all after time.
  2. There was a Story current that Napoleon’s indisposition on the 28th of August was caused by his eating heartily of a shoulder of mutton stuffed with garlic, not the wholesomest food in the world; and the digestive powers having been reduced by long exposure to damp, this dish may have been too much for them. Thiers says that the Imperial illness at Pirna was “a malady invented by flatterers,” and yet only a few pages before he says that “Napoleon proceeded to Pirna, where he arrived about noon, and where, after having partaken of a slight repast, he was seized with a pain in the stomach, to which he was subject after exposure to damp.” Napoleon suffered from stomach complaints from an early period of his career, and one of their effects is greatly to lessen the powers of the sufferer’s mind. His want of energy at Borodino was attributed to a disordered stomach, and the Russians were simply beaten, not destroyed, on that field. When he heard of Vandamme’s defeat, Napoleon said, “One should make a bridge of gold for a flying enemy, where it is impossible, as in Vandammne’s ease, to oppose to him a bulwark of steel.” He forgot that his own plan was to have opposed to the enemy a bulwark of steel, and that the non-existence of that bulwark on the 30th of August was owing to his own negligence. Still, the reverse at Kulm might not have proved so terribly fatal, had it not been preceded by the reverses on the Katzbaeh, which also were owing to the heavy rains, and news of which was the cause of the halting of so large a portion of his pursuing force at Pirna, and the march of many of his best men back to Dresden, his intention being to attempt the restoration of affairs in that quarter, where they had been so sadly compromised under Macdonald’s direction. He was as much overworked by the necessity of attending to so many theatres of action as his armies were overmatched in the field by the superior numbers of the Allies. He is said to have repeated the following lines, after musing for a while on the news from Kulm: — “ J’ai servi, commandé, vaincu quarante années; Du monde entre mes mains j’ai vu les destinées, Et j'ai toujours connu qn’en chaque événement Le destin des états dépendait d'un moment.” But he had hours, we might say days, to settle his destiny, and was not tied down to a moment. Afterward he had the fairness to admit that he had lost a great opportunity to regain the ascendency in not supporting Vandamme with the whole of the Young Guard.