« PreviousContinue »
with a cheer which was many a noble fellow's death-cry, they flew into the smoke of the batteries ; but ere they were lost from view the plain was strewed with their bodies, and with the carcasses of horses. They were exposed to an oblique fire from the batteries on the hills on both sides, as well as to a direct fire of musketry. Through the clouds of smoke we could see their sabres flashing as they rode up to the guns and dashed between them, cutting down the gunners as they stood. We saw them riding through the guns, as I have said ; to our delight we saw them returning after breaking through a column of Russian infantry, and scattering it like chaff, when the flank fire of the battery on the hill swept them down, scattered and broken as they were. Wounded men and dismounted troopers flying towards us told the sad tale. Demi-gods could not have done what they had failed to do. At the very moment when they were about to retreat, an enormous mass of Lancers was hurled on their flank. Colonel Shewell, of the 8th Hussars, saw the danger, and rode his few men straight at them, cutting his way through with fearful loss. The other regiments turned, and engaged in a desperate encounter. With courage too great almost for credence, they were breaking their way through the columns which enveloped them, when there took place an act of atrocity without parallel in the modern warfare of civilized nations. The Russian gunners, when the storm of cavalry passed, returned to their guns. They saw their own cavalry mingled with the troopers who had just ridden over them; and, to the eternal disgrace of the Russian name, the miscreants poured a murderous volley of grape and canister on the mass of struggling men and horses, mingling friend and foe in one common ruin! It was as much as our heavy cavalry brigade could do to cover the retreat of the miserable remnants of the band of heroes as they returned to the place they had so lately quitted. At thirty-five minutes past eleven not a British soldier, except the dead and dying, was left in front of
W. H. RUSSELL.
BATTLE OF MARATHON.
To the left of the Athenians was a low chain of hills, clothed with trees : to their right, a torrent: their front was long; for, to render it more imposing in extent, and to prevent being out-flanked by the Persian numbers, the centre ranks were left weak and shallow, but on either wing the troops were drawn up more solidly and strong. Callimachus commanded the right wing ; the Platæans formed the
the whole was commanded by Miltiades. They had few, if any, horsemen or archers.
The details which we possess of their arms and military array, if not in this, in other engagements of the same period, will complete the picture. We may behold them clad in bright armour of a good proof and well tempered, which covered breast and back; the greaves, so often mentioned by Homer, were still retained; their helmets were wrought and crested, the cones mostly painted in glowing colours, and the plumage of feathers, or horse-hair, rich and waving in proportion to the rank of the wearer. Broad, sturdy, and richly ornamented were their bucklers, the pride and darling of their arms, the loss of which was the loss of honour. Their spears were ponderous, thick, and long, (a chief mark of contradistinction from the light shaft of Persia,) and, with their short broadsword, constituted their main
weapons. No Greek army marched to battle without vows, and sacrifice, and prayer; and now, in the stillness of the pause, the divine rites were solemnized. Loud broke the trumpets ; the standards, wrought with the sacred bird of Athens, were raised on high : it was the signal of battle, and the Athenians rushed with an impetuous vehemence upon the Persian power. “They were the first Greeks of whom I have heard,” says the historian,“ who ever ran to attack a foe; the first, too, who ever beheld without dismay the garb and armour of the Medes ; for hitherto, in Greece, the very name of Mede had excited terror.”
When the Persian army, with its numerous horse, (animal as
well as man protected by coats of mail, its expert bow-men, its lines and deep files of turbaned soldiers, gorgeous with many a blazing standard, headed by leaders well hardened, despite their gay garbs and adorned breast-plates, in many a more even field ; when, I say, this force beheld the Athenians rushing toward them, they considered them, thus few and destitute alike of cavalry and archers, as madmen hurrying to destruction. But it was evidently not without deliberate calculation that Miltiades had so commenced the attack. The warlike experience of his guerilla life had taught him to know the foe against whom he fought. To volunteer the assault, was to forestall and cripple the charge of the Persian horse ; besides, the long lances, the heavy arms, the hand-to-hand valour of the Greeks, must have been no light encounter to the more weakly mailed and less formidably armed infantry of the East. Accustomed themselves to give the charge, it was a novelty and a disadvantage to receive it.
Long, fierce, and stubborn was the battle. The centre wing of the barbarians, composed of the Sacians and the pure
Persian race, at length pressed hard upon the shallow centre of the Greeks, drove them back into the country, and, eager with pursuit, left their own wings to the charge of Callimachus on the one side, and the Platæan forces on the other. The brave Callimachus, after the most signal feats of valour, fell fighting in the field; but his troops, undismayed, smote on with spear and sword.
The barbarians retreated backward to the sea, where swamps and marshes encumbered their movements; and here (though the Athenians did not pursue them far) the greater portion were slain, hemmed in by the morasses, and probably ridden down by their own disordered cavalry. Meanwhile, the two tribes that had formed the centre, one of which was commanded by Aristides, retrieved themselves with a mighty effort; and the two wings having routed their antagonists, now inclining toward each other, intercepted the barbarian centre; which, thus attacked in front and rear, was defeated with prodigious slaughter.
Evening came on : confused and disorderly, the Persians pow only thought of flight; the whole army retired to their ships, hard chased by the Grecian victors, who, amid the carnage, fired the fleet. Cynegirus, brother to Æschylus the tragic poet, (himself highly distinguished for his feats that day,) seized one of the vessels by the poop : his hand was severed by an axe : he died gloriously of his wounds. But to none did the fortunes of that field open a more illustrious career than to a youth of the tribe of Leontes, in whom, though probably then but a simple soldier in the ranks, were first made manifest the nature and the genius destined to command. The name of that youth was THEMISTOCLES.
Seven vessels were captured, six thousand four hundred of the barbarians fell in the field. The Athenians and their brave ally lost only one hundred; but among them perished many of their bravest nobles. It was a superstition not uncharacteristic of that imaginative people, and evincing how greatly their ardour was aroused, that many of them fancied they beheld the gigantic shade of their ancestral Theseus, completely armed and bearing down before them upon the foe!
A picture of the battle, representing Miltiades in the foremost place, and solemnly preserved in public, was deemed no inadequate reward to that great captain; and yet, conspicuous above the level plain of Marathon, rises a long barrow, fifteen feet in height, the supposed sepulchre of the Athenian heroes. Still does a romantic legend, not unfamiliar with our traditions of the North, give a supernatural terror to the spot. Nightly, along the plains are yet heard by superstition, the neighing of chargers, and the rushing shadows of spectral war.
And still, throughout the civilized world (civilized how much by the art and lore of Athens !) men of every clime, of every political persuasion, feel as Greeks at the name of Marathon. Later fields have presented the spectacle of an equal valour, and almost the same disparities of slaughter; but never, in the annals of earth, were united so closely in our applause, admiration for the heroism of the victors and sympathy for the holiness of their cause.
What though the mounds that marked each Still, star-light sheds the same pale beam
Beneath the wings of Time, [name, For aye upon the plain;
The Grecian free again;
But dimless beauty robes the skies.
Oh! to have seen the marching bands,
And heard the battle clash!
And eyes defiance flash!
May He whose glory gems the sky,
God of the slave and free,
That's offered here for thee;
In the year 500 B.C., ten years after the battle of Marathon, Xerxes, the son and successor of Darius, opened the second Persian war by invading Greece in person, at the head of the greatest army the world has ever seen, and whose numbers have been estimated at more than two millions of fighting men. This immense host, proceeding by the way of Thessaly, had arrived without opposition at the narrow defile of Thermopylæ, between the mountains and the sea, where the Spartan Leonidas was posted with three hundred of his countrymen and some Thespian allies, in all less than a thousand men.
The Spartans were forbidden by their laws ever to flee from an enemy; they had taken an oath never to desert their standards; and Leonidas and his countrymen, and their few allies, prepared to sell their lives as dearly as possible. Bravely meeting the attack of the Persian host, and retreating into the narrowest of the pass as their num
* The loss of the shield was considered disgraceful.