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My First Battle A Sergeant's Story   By: (1798-1855)

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Adam Mickiewicz



They envy Attila, who fought a thousand battles, and in the thousandth still felt that, which he called gaudia certaminum , that is, the delight in the slaughter. Oh, that old general was a lecher of blood. As far as I am concerned, holding the rank of light artillery sergeant, I confess, that I was truly in love with war, but only during the first week of my military career, and that only one single time I tasted Attila's delight. For this reason my honeymoon and first battle will never leave my memory.

The first battle has the most particular similarity to first love. How many hopes! how many illusions! before this ceremonial action, which resolves the fate of nations, any recruit feels obliged to play at least a role{~HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS~} as a hero of history or a romance.

It finally comes to the trial and you stand before it with impatience and a certain anxiety, experiencing once mortal terror, then again a crazed joy; now fear pierces you, now the pride of the triumphant picks you up.. In one hour you pass through crowds of emotions, and you collect keepsakes for your whole life! but in order to feel it in full force, you must have the heart of a virgin, the heart of a recruit.

Someone said that every man can compose a good romance, telling only the simple story of his first love. This insight encouraged me to describe the first battle, in which I was. You need to know that this battle is only an episode of a famous war, that in it we achieved a great victory, and that in its time it won us the admiration of the European people. Admittedly, these are times long past, because people have well forgotten both about our defeats and about our triumphs. In spite of this, the Polish soldier will never forget about the Battle of Stoczek.

After the revolution of the 29th of November(1), I decided to join the ranks, and I pondered, whether to the infantry, or to the cavalry? To make a definite choice, I ran through the streets of Warsaw, eyeing closely the uniforms of several regiments. I stopped ahead of a battalion of grenadiers, who marched in tight rows, silently, in order and seriously. Each moustachiod, with chevrons on his shoulders. These were the remains of the Napoleonic legions. As they passed, they were yielded to with the utmost respect, and they were whispering in the crowd: "There are my soldiers! there are our defenders!" I envy them, I thought, it's a beautiful thing to be a grenadier! And I approached the division, and having taken the place beside the drummer, I marched in the grenadiers' step, singling out the commander, to whom I immediately wished to offer my services.

Suddenly, on the other side of the street, a new military meteor appeared to me. He was a Krakus(2) on a white horse, in a white sukmana (3), in a red cap with a white feather, which cut like a swan through black waves of crowding townsfolk. He turned his horse beautifully; he welcomed pedestrians with a nod, with cavalrymen squeezed hands, and to beautiful ladies, standing in windows, sent grateful kisses. All eyes turned towards him; men clapped, women smiled in silence; and the beautiful Krakus became the god of the moment.

It came to my mind right away, that a Krakus' uniform at my age and height would suit me better, and so my true calling manifested itself: God had made me a Krakus!

So I turned in the direction of the cavalry barracks; but halfway across the road I fell into the immeasurable crowd who captured me into itself and bore towards the tollbooths. The people pressed to meet the newly approaching rows. A stranger figure rode at the front; it was it is an old Capuchin in habit and on a horse, in one hand a lance and the other blessing people with a cross, who kissed his legs. Behind the Capuchin followed a thousand archers from the Augustów forests... Continue reading book >>

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