Hannibal Crosses the Alps

Hannibal was so accustomed to stratagem and treachery himself, that he was at first very much at a loss to decide whether these offers and professions were honest and sincere, or whether they were only made to put him off his guard. He thought it possible that it was their design to induce him to place himself under their direction, so that they might lead him into some dangerous defile or labyrinth of rocks, from which he could not extricate himself, and where they could attack and destroy him. He, however, decided to return them a favorable answer, but to watch them very carefully, and to proceed under their guidance with the utmost caution and care. He accepted of the provisions they offered, and took the hostages. These last he delivered into the custody of a body of his soldiers arid they marched on with the rest of the army. Then, directing the new guides to lead the way, the army moved on after them. The elephants went first, with a moderate force for their protection preceding and accompanying them. Then came long trains of horses and mules, loaded with military stores and baggage, and finally the foot soldiers followed, marching irregularly in a long column. The whole train must have extended many miles, and must have appeared from many of the eminences around like an enormous serpent, winding its way tortuously through the wild and desolate valleys.

Hannibal was right in his suspicions. The embassage was a stratagem. The men who sent it had laid an ambuscade in a very narrow, pass, concealing their forces in thickets and in chasms, and in nooks and corners among the rugged rocks, and when the guides had led the army well into the danger, a sudden signal was given, and these concealed enemies rushed down upon them in great numbers, breaking into their ranks, and renewing the scene of terrible uproar, tumult, and destruction which had been witnessed in the other defile. One would have thought that the elephants, being so unwieldy and so helpless in such a scene, would have been the first objects of attack. But it was not so. The mountaineers were afraid of them. They had never seen such animals before, and they felt for them a mysterious awe, not knowing what terrible powers such enormous beasts might be expected to wield. They kept away from them, therefore, and from the horsemen, and poured sown upon the head of the column of foot soldiers which followed in the rear.

They were quite successful at the first onset. They broke through the head of the column, and drove the rest back. The horses and elephants, in the mean time, moved forward, bearing the baggage with them, so that the two portions of the army were soon entirely separated. Hannibal was behind with the soldiers. The mountaineers made good their position, and, as night came on, the contest ceased, for in such wilds as these no one can move at all, except with the light of day. The mountaineers, however, remained in their place, dividing the army and Hannibal continued, during the night, in a state of great suspense and anxiety, with the elephants and the baggage separated from him and apparently at the mercy of the enemy.

During the night he made vigorous preparations for attacking the mountaineers the next day. As soon as the morning light appeared, he made the attack, and he succeeded in driving the enemy away, so far, at least, as to allow him to get his army together again. He then began once more to move on. The mountaineers, however, hovered about his way, and did all they could to molest and embarrass his march. They concealed themselves in ambuscades, and attacked the Carthaginians as they passed.