RETREAT FROM PRAG; ARMY OF THE ORIFLAMME, BOHEMIAN SECTION BOHEMIAN SECTION OF IT, MAKES EXIT.
"And Belleisle in Prag, left solitary there, with his heroic remnant,--gone now to 17,000, the fourth man of them in hospital, with Festititz Tolpatchery hovering round, and Winter and Hunger drawing nigh,--what is to become of Belleisle? Prince Karl and the Grand-Duke had attended Maillebois to Bavaria; steadily to left of Maillebois between Austria and him; and are now busy in the Passau Country, bent on exploding those Seckendorf-Broglio operations and intentions, as the chief thing now. Meanwhile they have detached Prince Lobkowitz to girdle in Belleisle again; for which Lobkowitz (say, 20,000, with the Festititz Tolpatchery included) will be easily able. On the march thither he easily picked up (18th-25th November) that new French Post of Leitmeritz (Broglio's fine 'Half- way House to Saxony and Provender'), with its garrison of 2,000: the other posts and outposts, one and all, had to hurry home, in fear of a like fate. Beyond the circuit of Prag, isolated in ten miles of burnt country, Belleisle has no resource except what his own head may furnish. The black landscape is getting powdered with snow; one of the grimmest Winters, almost like that of 1740; Belleisle must see what he will do.
"Belleisle knows secretly what he will do. Belleisle has orders to come away from Prag; bring his Army off, and the chivalry of France home to their afflicted friends. [
"On the 15th December, 1742, Prag Gates are all shut: Enter if you like; but no outgate. Monseigneur le Marechal intends to have a grand foraging to-morrow, on the southwestern side of Prag. Lobkowitz heard of it, in spite of the shut gates; for all Prag is against Belleisle, and does spy-work for Lobkowitz. 'Let him forage,' thought Lobkowitz; 'he will not grow rich by what he gathers;' and sat still, leaving his pontoons high and dry. So that Belleisle, on the afternoon of December 16th,--between 12 and 14,000 men, near 4,000 of them cavalry, with cannon, with provision-wagons, baggage-wagons, goods and chattels in mass,--has issued through the two Southwestern Gates; and finds himself fairly out of Prag. On the Pilsen road; about nightfall of the short winter day: earth all snow and 'VERGLAS,' iron glazed; huge olive- colored curtains of the Dusk going down upon the Mountains ahead of him; shutting in a scene wholly grim for Belleisle. Brigadier Chevert, a distinguished and determined man, with some 4,000 sick, convalescent and half able, is left in Prag to man the works; the Marechal has taken hostages, twenty Notabilities of Prag; and neglected no precaution. He means towards Eger; has, at least, got one march ahead; and will do what is in him, he and every soul of those 14,000. The officers have given their horses for the baggage-wagons, made every sacrifice; the word Homewards kindles a strange fire in all hearts; and the troops, say my French authorities, are unsurpassable. The Marechal himself, victim of rheumatisms, cannot ride at all; but has his light sledge always harnessed; and, at a moment's notice, is present everywhere. Sleep, during these ten days and nights, he has little.
"Eger is 100 miles off, by the shortest Highway: there are two bad Highways, one by Pilsen southerly, one by Karlsbad northerly,--with their bridges all broken, infested by Hussars:--we strike into a middle combination of country roads, intricate parish lanes; and march zigzag across these frozen wildernesses: we must dodge these Festititz Hussar swarms; and cross the rivers near their springs. Forward! Perhaps some readers, for the high Belleisle's sake, will look out these localities subjoined in the Note, and reduced to spelling. [Tachlowitz, Lischon (near Rakonitz); Jechnitz (as if you were for the Pilsen road; then turn as if for the Karlsbad one); Steben (not discoverable, but a DESPATCH from it,--
"Festititz tries us twice,--very anxious to get Belleisle's Army- chest, or money; we give him torrents of sharp shot instead. Festititz, these two chief times, we pepper rapidly into the Hills again; he is reduced to hang prancing on our flanks and rear. Men bivouac over fires of turf, amid snow, amid frost; tear down, how greedily, any wood-work for fire. Leave a trumpet to beg quarter for the frozen and speechless;--which is little respected: they are lugged in carts, stript by the savageries, and cruelly used. There were first extensive plains, then boggy passes, intricate mouutains; bog and rock; snow and VERGLAS.--On the 26th, after indescribable endeavors, we got into Eger;--some 1,300 (about one in ten) left frozen in the wilderness; and half the Army falling ill at Eger, of swollen limbs, sore-throats, and other fataler diseases, fatal then, or soon after. Chevert, at Prag, refused summons from Prince Lobkowitz: 'No, MON PRINCE; not by any means! We will die, every man of us, first; and we will burn Prag withal!'--So that Lobkowitz had to consent to everything; and escort Chevert to Eger, with bag and baggage, Lobkowitz furnishing the wagons.
"Comparable to the Retreat of Xenophon! cry many. Every Retreat is compared to that. A valiant feat, after all exaggerations. A thing well done, say military men;--'nothing to object, except that the troops were so ruined;'--and the most unmilitary may see, it is the work of a high and gallant kind of man. One of the coldest expeditions ever known. There have been three expeditions or retreats of this kind which were very cold: that of those Swedes in the Great Elector's time (not to mention that of Karl XII.'s Army out of Norway, after poor Karl XII. got shot); that of Napoleon from Moscow; this of Belleisle, which is the only one brilliantly conducted, and not ending in rout and annihilation.
"The troops rest in Eger for a week or two; then homeward through the Ober-Pfalz:--'go all across the Rhine at Speyer' (5th February next); the Bohemian Section of the Oriflamme making exit in this manner. Not quite the eighth man of them left; five-eighths are dead: and there are about 12,000 prisoners, gone to Hungary,--who ran mostly to the Turks, such treatment had they, and were not heard of again." [