August 7 1815: Cockburn and Napoleon

At dinner he [Napoleon] ate heartily, and of almost every dish; praised every thing; and seemed most perfectly reconciled to his fate. He talked with me, during dinner, much of his Russian campaign. He said that he meant only to have refreshed his troops at Moscow for four or five days, and then to have marched for Petersburgh; but that the destruction of Moscow subverted all his projects. ‘ He added, that nothing could be more horrible than this campaign; that for several days together it appeared to him as if he was marching through a sea of fire, owing to the constant succession of villages in flames, which arose in every direction as far as his eye could reach; and that this had been by some attributed to his troops, but that it was always done by the natives. Many of his soldiers, however, he asserted, lost their lives by endeavouring to pillage in the midst of the flames.

He spoke much of the cold during their disastrous retreat; and stated that one night, after he had quitted the army to return to Paris, an entire half of his guard were frozen to death. — He also told me, in the course of this evening, that previous to his going to Elba, he had made preparations for having a navy of one hundred sail of the line; that he had established a conscription for the navy, and that the Toulon fleet was entirely manned and brought forward by people of this description; that he had ordered them positively to get under weigh and mancevre every day when the weather would permit, and to stand out occasionally to exchange long shots with our ships; and that this had been much remonstrated against by those about him, and had cost him at first a great deal of money to repair the accidents which occurred from the want of maritime knowledge, — such as from the ships getting foul of each other, splitting their sails, springing their masts, Sic. Even these accidents, he found, tended to improve the crews, and therefore he determined to continue to pay his money, and to oblige them to persevere in that exercise.

He believed that his ships at Antwerp were built in rather too great a hurry: but he spoke in high praise of that port, and observed that he had already given orders for a similar establishment to have been formed on the Elbe; and had Fortune not turned against him, he hoped sooner or later to have given us some trouble even on the seas. He stated, that he had hurried the ships at Antwerp because he was anxious to press forward an expedition from that quarter against Ireland.

Having taken his wine and coffee, he walked a short time on deck, and afterwards proposed a round game at cards. In compliance with his requests, we played at vingt-un until about half past ten, and won from him about seven or eight napoleons. He then retired to his bedroom, apparently as much at his ease as if he had belonged to the ship all his life.

. — Sir George Cockburn writes in his diary for August 7 1815.

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