Part 1 out of 4
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NAPOLEON'S CAMPAIGN IN RUSSIA
DR. A. ROSE
There is no campaign in the history of the world which has left such a deep
impression upon the heart of the people than that of Napoleon in Russia,
Of the soldiers of other wars who had not come home it was reported where
they had ended on the field of honor. Of the great majority of the 600
thousand who had crossed the Niemen in the month of June Anno 1812, there
was recorded in the list of their regiments, in the archives "_Disappeared
during the Retreat_" and nothing else.
When the few who had come home, those hollow eyed specters with their
frozen hands, were asked about these comrades who had disappeared during
the retreat, they could give no information, but they would speak of
endless, of never-heard-of sufferings in the icy deserts of the north, of
the cruelty of the Cossacks, of the atrocious acts of the Moushiks and the
peasants of Lithuania, and, worst of all, of the infernal acts of the
people of Wilna. And it would break the heart of those who listened to
There is a medical history of the hundreds of thousands who have perished
Anno 1812 in Russia from cold, hunger, fatigue or misery.
Such medical history cannot be intelligible without some details of the
history of events causing and surrounding the deaths from cold and hunger
and fatigue. And such a history I have attempted to write.
Casting a glance on the map on which the battle fields on the march to and
from Moscow are marked, we notice that it was not a deep thrust which the
attack of the French army had made into the colossus of Russia. From the
Niemen to Mohilew, Ostrowno, Polotsk, Krasnoi, the first time, Smolensk,
Walutina, Borodino, Conflagration of Moscow, and on the retreat the battles
of Winkonow, Jaroslawetz, Wiasma, Vop, Krasnoi, the second time, Beresina,
Wilna, Kowno; this is not a great distance, says Paul Holzhausen in his
book "Die Deutschen in Russland 1812" but a great piece of history.
Holzhausen, whose book has furnished the most valuable material of which I
could avail myself besides the dissertation of von Scherer, the book of
Beaupre and the report of Krantz, and numerous monographs, has brought to
light valuable papers of soldiers who had returned and had left their
remembrances of life of the soldiers during the Russian campaign to their
descendants and relatives who had kept these papers a sacred inheritance
during one hundred years.
The picture in the foreground of all histories of the Russian campaign is
the shadow of the great warrior who led the troops, in whose invincibility
all men who followed him Anno 1812 believed and by whom they stood in their
soldier's honor, with a constancy without equal, a steadfastness which
merits our admiration.
Three fourths of the whole army belonged to nations whose real interests
were in direct opposition to the war against Russia. Notwithstanding that
many were aware of this fact, they fought as brave in battle as if their
own highest interests were at stake. All wanted to uphold their own honor
as men and the honor of their nations. And no matter how the individual
soldier was thinking of Napoleon, whether he loved or hated him, there was
not a single one in the whole army who did not have implicit confidence in
his talent. Wherever the Emperor showed himself the soldiers believed in
victory, where he appeared thousands of men shouted from the depth of their
heart and with all the power of their voices Vive l'Empereur!
A wild martial spirit reigned in all lands, the bloody sword did not ask
why and against whom it was drawn. To win glory for the own army, the own
colors and standards was the parole of the day. All the masses of different
nations felt as belonging to one great whole and were determined to act as
And all this has to be considered in a medical history of the campaign Anno
Throughout Germany, Napoleon is the favorite hero. In the homes of the
common people, in the huts of the peasants, there are pictures ornamenting
the walls, engravings which have turned yellow from age, the frames of
which are worm eaten. These pictures represent a variety of subjects, but
rarely are there pictures missing of scenes of the life of Napoleon.
Generally they are divided into fields, and in the larger middle field you
see the hero of small stature, on a white horse, from his fallow face the
cold calculating eyes looking into a throng of bayonets, lances, bearskin
caps, helmets, and proud eagles. The graceful mouth, in contrast to the
strong projecting chin, modifies somewhat the severity of this face, a face
of marble of which it has been said that it gave the impression of a field
of death, and the man with this face is accustomed to conquer, to reign, to
destroy. He is the inexorable God of war himself, not in glittering armour,
but in a plain uniform ornamented with one single order for personal
bravery. The tuft of hair on his high and broad forehead is like a sign of
everlasting scorn. A gloomy, dreadfully attractive figure. In some of the
pictures we see him in his plain gray overcoat and well-known hat,
surrounded by marshals in splendid dress parade, forming a contrast to the
simplicity of their master, on some elevation from which he looks into
burning cities; again we see him unmoved by dreadful surroundings, riding
through battle scenes of horror.
Over my desk hangs such an old steel engraving, given to me by an old
German lady who told me that her father had thought a great deal of it. On
Saturdays he would wash the glass over the other pictures with water, but
for washing the Napoleon picture he would use alcohol.
Before this man kings have trembled, innumerable thousands have cheerfully
given their blood, their lives; this man has been adored like a God and
cursed like a devil. He has been the fate of the world until his hour
struck. Many say providence had selected him to castigate the universe and
its enslaved peoples. A great German historian, Gervinus, has said: "He was
the greatest benefactor of Germany who removed the gloriole from the heads
crowned by the grace of God." He accomplished great things because he had
great power, he committed great faults because he was so powerful. Without
his unrestricted power he could not have accomplished one nor committed the
History is logic. Whenever great wrongs prevail, some mighty men appear and
arouse the people, and these extraordinary men are like the storm in winter
which shatters and breaks what is rotten, preparing for spring.
The German school boy, when he learns of the greatest warriors and
conquerors, of Alexander the Great, of Julius Caesar, is most fascinated
when he hears the history of the greatest of all the warriors of the world,
the history of Napoleon, and he is spellbound reading the awfully beautiful
histories concerning his unheard of deeds, his rise without example, and
his sudden downfall.
And he, the great man, the soldier-emperor, he rides on his white horse in
the boy's dreams, just as depicted on the engravings upon which the boys
look with a kind of holy awe.
The son of a Corsican lawyer, becoming in early manhood the master of the
world, what could inflame youthful fiction more than this wonderful career?
All great conquerors come to a barrier. Alexander, when he planned to
subdue India, found the barrier at the Indus. Caesar found it at the Thames
and at the Rhine. Our hero's fate was to be fulfilled at Moscow. His
insatiable thirst to rule had led him into Russia. He stood at the height
of his power and glory. Holland, Italy, a part of Germany, were French, and
Germany especially groaned under the heel of severe xenocraty. The old
German Empire had broken down, nothing of it was left but a ridiculous
name, "_Romisches Reich deutscher Nation_." The crowned heads of Germany
held their thrones merely by the grace of Napoleon. Only Spain, united with
England, dared him yet. Since Napoleon could not attack the English
directly, on account of their power at sea, he tried to hit them where they
were most sensitive, at their pocket. He instituted the continental blocus.
Russia with the other lands of Continental Europe had to close her ports
and markets against England, but Russia soon became tired of this pressure
and preferred a new war with Napoleon to French domination.
In giving this sketch of the popularity of Napoleon's memory in Germany, I
have availed myself of a German calendar for the year 1913, called Der
Lahrer hinkende Bote.
Except the English translation of Beaupre's book I have taken from French
and German writings only.
I desire to thank Mr. S. Simonis, of New York, who has revised the entire
manuscript and read the proofs; next to him I am under obligations to
Reichs Archiv Rat Dr. Striedinger, of Munich, and Mr. Franz Herrmann, of
New York, who have loaned me most valuable books and pointed out important
literature, and finally to Miss F. de Cerkez, who has aided me in the
translation of some of the chapters.
Transportation of Cannon under Difficulties
Attack of Cossacks
"And Never Saw Daylight Again,"
Gate of Wilna
In the Streets of Wilna
Retreat Across the Niemen
"No Fear, We Shall Soon Follow You"
CROSSING THE NIEMEN
On May 10th., 1812, the Moniteur published the following note: "The emperor
has left to-day to inspect the Grand Army united at the Vistula." In
France, in all parts of the Empire, the lassitude was extreme and the
misery increasing, there was no commerce, with dearth pronounced in twenty
provinces, sedition of the hungry had broken out in Normandy, the gendarmes
pursuing the "refractories" everywhere, and blood was shed in all thirty
There was the complaint of exhausted population, and loudest was the
complaint of mothers whose sons had been killed in the war.
Napoleon was aware of these evils and understood well their gravity, but he
counted on his usual remedy, new victories; saying to himself that a great
blow dealt in the north, throwing Russia and indirectly England at his
feet, would again be the salvation of the situation.
Caulaincourt, his ambassador to the Tzar, had told him in several
conversations, one of which had lasted seven hours, that he would find more
terrible disaster in Russia than in Spain, that his army would be destroyed
in the vastness of the country by the iron climate, that the Tzar would
retire to the farthest Asiatic provinces rather than accept a dishonorable
peace, that the Russians would retreat but never cede.
Napoleon listened attentively to these prophetic words, showing surprise
and emotion; then he fell into a profound reflection, but at the end of his
revery, having enumerated once more his armies, all his people, he said:
"Bah! a good battle will bring to reason the good determination of your
And in his entourage there were many who shared his optimism. The brilliant
youth of that new aristocracy which had begun to fill his staff was anxious
to equal the old soldiers of the revolution, the plebeian heroes.
They prepared for war in a luxurious way and ordered sumptuous outfits and
equipages which later on encumbered the roads of Germany, just as the
carriages of the Prussian army had done in 1806.
These French officers spoke of the Russian campaign as a six months'
Napoleon had calculated not to occupy the country between the Vistula and
the Niemen before the end of May, when the late spring of those regions
would have covered the fields with green, so that the 100 thousand horses
marching with the army could find feed.
He traversed Germany between a double lane of kings, and princes bowed in
an attitude of adoration.
He found them at Mainz, at Wuerzburg, at Bamberg, and his advance might be
compared to the royal progress of an Asiatic potentate.
Whole populations were turned out to salute him, and during the night the
route over which the imperial carriages passed was illuminated by lighted
piles of wood--an extensive line of fire in his honor.
At Dresden he had the attendance of an emperor (that of Austria) and of
kings and reigning princes, who were present at his levees, together with
their prime ministers (the better to catch, to report, the words he said,
however insignificant) while high German dignitaries waited on him at the
The Emperor and the Empress of Austria had come at their own desire to
salute their daughter and their son-in-law and to present their good wishes
for the success of the great expedition.
Twelve days in succession he had at dinner the Emperor and Empress of
Austria, the King and Queen of Saxony, the Saxon princes, the Prince
Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine--even the King of Prussia was
present; he offered his son for adjutant, which offer, however, Napoleon
was tactful enough not to accept.
All the kings and reigning princes from the other States of Germany
presented their best wishes and pledged faithfulness to Napoleon in his war
Around the French emperor and empress at Dresden there was a court the like
of which Europe had never seen and never will see again.
A Te Deum was sung to thank heaven for his arrival; there was a magnificent
display of fireworks, but the climax of all was a great concert with an
apotheosis showing, as the principal figure, the sun with the inscription:
"Less great and less beautiful than He." "It appears that these people take
me for very stupid," said Napoleon to this, shrugging his shoulders.
In speaking to one of his intimates he called the King of Prussia a
sergeant instructor, _une bete_, but openly he treated him with great
He made rich presents: gold and enameled boxes, jewelry and portraits of
himself enriched with costly stones. During the happy days of Dresden he
enjoyed for once an intimate family life.
On one occasion he held a long conversation with his father-in-law, during
which he developed his plans of the Russian campaign, with minute and
endless military details of which the emperor of Austria, being no
strategist at all, understood nothing and said afterward: "My son-in-law is
alright here," pointing to the heart, "but here"--pointing to the
forehead--he made a significant gesture.
This criticism of Napoleon by the Emperor of Austria became popular and has
been accepted by many writers. All reproaches about Cesarian insanity which
were cast at the great man and his whole life date from that time. Some
have said that he wanted to conquer England and Russia because these two he
considered the arch enemies of Europe, that he foresaw the threatening
growth of these two countries as dangerous, and if he did not take
advantage of the good opportunity the future of Europe would be at the
mercy of Russia and England.
The conquest of Russia was the keynote of his universal policy.
The much calumniated blocus, say other writers, would finally have been the
greatest blessing for continental Europe; its aim had already been attained
in so far as many London houses failed, and famine reigned on the British
islands in consequence of the high cost of living.
And these writers say Napoleon had by no means become insane, but, on the
contrary, frightfully clear. Another explanation given was that he worried
about his dynasty, his child, entertaining fear that his empire might fall
to pieces after his death, like the empire of Charles the Great.
Although he was enjoying good health, he had been warned by his physician,
_Corvisart_, of cancer of the stomach, from which Napoleon's father had
died. Some suspicious black specks had been observed in the vomit.
Therefore no time was to be lost, all had to be done in haste.
The rupture originated with Russia, for at the end of the year 1810 the
Tzar annulled the blocus and even excluded French goods or placed an
inordinate duty on them--this was, in fact, a declaration of war. Russia
wanted war while the Spanish campaign was taxing France's military forces.
The only reliable report of Napoleon's communications at St. Helena has
been given by General de Gourgaudin the diary which he kept while with the
Emperor from 1815 to 1818, and which has been published in the year 1898.
Here is what Napoleon said on this subject:
On June 13th., 1816, he remarked in conversation with _Gourgaud_, "I did
not want the war with Russia, but _Kurakin_ presented me a threatening
note on account of _Davout's_ troops at Hamburg. _Bassano_ and
Champagny_ were mediocre ministers, they did not comprehend the intention
which had dictated that note. I myself could not argue with _Kurakin_. They
persuaded me that it meant declaration of war. Russia had taken off several
divisions from Moldavia and would take the initiative with an attack on
Warsaw. _Kurakin_ threatened and asked for his passports. I myself believed
finally they wanted war. I mobilized! I sent _Lauriston_ to Alexander,
but he was not even received. From Dresden I sent _Narbonne_, everything
convinced me that Russia wanted war. I crossed the Niemen near Wilna.
"Alexander sent a General to me to assure me that he did not wish war; I
treated this ambassador very well, he dined with me, but I believed his
mission was a trick to prevent the cutting off of _Bagratian_. I
therefore continued the march.
"I did not wish to declare war against Russia, but I had the impression
that Russia wanted to break with me. I knew very well the difficulties of
such a campaign."
_Gourgaud_ wrote in his diary a conversation which he had with Montholon on
July 9th., 1817. "What was the real motive of the Russian campaign? I know
nothing about it, and perhaps the Emperor himself did not know it. Did he
intend to go to India after having dethroned the Moscowitic dynasty? The
preparations, the tents which he took along, seem to suggest this
Montholon answered: "According to the instructions which I, as ambassador,
received I believe that His Majesty wanted to become Emperor of Germany,
that he aimed to be crowned as '_Emperor of the West_'. The Rhenish
Confederation was made to understand this idea. In Erfurt it was already a
foregone conclusion, but Alexander demanded Constantinople, and this
Napoleon would not concede."
At another conversation Napoleon admitted "I have been too hasty. I should
have remained a whole year at the Niemen and in Prussia, in order to give
my troops the much needed rest, to reorganize the army and also to eat up
All these details, Napoleon's admission included, show that nobody knew and
nobody knows why this gigantic expedition was undertaken. Certain is,
however, that England had a hand in the break between Napoleon and
When Napoleon called on the generals to lead them into this expedition they
all had become settled to some extent, some in Paris, others on their
possessions or as governors and commanders all over Europe, which at that
time meant France; in consequence there existed a certain displeasure among
these officers, especially among the older ones and those of high rank.
The high positions which he had created for them and the rich incomes which
they enjoyed had developed their and their wives' taste for a luxurious and
brilliant mode of living. Besides, most of them, as well as their master,
had attained the age between forty and fifty, their ambition gradually had
relented, they had enough; and the family with which they had been together
for very brief periods only between two campaigns, clung to them now and
held them tightly.
Notwithstanding these conditions, they all came when the Emperor called;
after they had shaken off wife and children and had mounted in the saddle,
while the old veterans and the young impatient soldiers were jubilant
around them, they regained their good humor and went on to new victories,
the brave men they always had been.
Especially at first when, at the head of their magnificent regiments, they
marched eastward through the conquered lands, from city to city, from
castle to castle, like masters of the world, when in Dresden they met their
comrades in war and their friends, and when they saw how all the crowned
heads of Europe bowed before their Emperor, then the Grand Army was in its
As we know from history the Grand Army had contingents from twenty
nationalities: Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Austrians, Swiss, Spaniards,
Portuguese, Poles, Illyrians, etc., and numbered over half a million men,
with 100 thousand horses, 1,000 cannon.
According to Bleibtreu (Die grosse Armee, Stuttgart, 1908), and Kielland
(Rings um Napoleon, Leipzig, 1907) the Grand Army was made up as follows:
_First Corps_--Davout, six divisions of the best troops under the command
of Morand, Friant, Gudin. In this corps were, besides French, Badensian,
Dutch, and Polish regiments. Davout commanded also 17 thousand Prussian
soldiers under General Grawert. Among the generals were Compans and Pajol,
the engineer Haxo, and the handsome General Friederich 67,000
_Second Corps_--Oudinot with the divisions of Generals Merle, Legrand,
Maison, Lannes' and Massena's veterans 40,000
_Third Corps_--Ney with two divisions of veterans of Lannes; to this corps
belonged the Wuerttembergians who had served under Ney before 49,000
_Fourth Corps_--Prince Eugene with Junot as second commander, and the
Generals Grouchy, Broussier, the two brothers Delzon. In this corps were
the best soldiers of the Italian army 45,000
_Fifth Corps_--Prince Poniatowski. Soldiers of all arms, mostly Poles
26,000 Sixth Corps--General St Cyr. Mostly foreigners who had served in
the French army since 1809 25,000
_The Sixth Corps_--General St Cyr. Mostly foreigners who had served in the
French army since 1809 25,000
_The Seventh Corps_--General Reynier. Mostly Saxons and Poles 17,000
_The Eighth Corps_--King Jerome. Westphalians and Hessians 18,000
Besides, there were four corps of reserve cavalry distributed among the
corps of Davout, Oudinot, and Ney; the rest, excellent horsemen, marched
with the Imperial Guard 15,000
_The Imperial Guards_ were commanded by the Marshals Mortier and Lefebvre
and were divided into two corps, the old guard and the young guard 47,000
There was the engineer park, composed of sappers, miners, pontooneers and
military mechanicians of all descriptions, the artillery park, and train of
wagons with attendants and horses. To these two trains alone belonged 18
In the active army which marched toward Russia there were 423 thousand well
drilled soldiers; namely, 300 thousand infantry, 70 thousand cavalry and 30
thousand artillery with 1 thousand cannon, 6 pontoon trains, ambulances,
and also provisions for one month.
As reserve, the ninth corps--Marshal Victor--and the tenth
corps--Augereau--were stationed near Magdeburg, ready to complete the army
The whole army which marched to Russia consisted of 620 thousand men.
The question of subsistence for this immense body occupied Napoleon
chiefly. He felt the extraordinary difficulty and great danger, he knew
that at the moment of coming in contact with the enemy all the corps would
be out of supplies in twenty or twenty-five days if there were no great
reserves of bread, biscuit, rice, etc., closely following the army.
His system was that of requisition. To secure the needed supplies the
commanders of the corps were ordered to seize in the country all the grain
which could be found and at once to convert it into flour, with methodic
Napoleon himself superintended and hastened the work. At twenty different
places along the Vistula he had the grinding done unceasingly, distributing
the flour thus obtained among the corps and expediting its transport by
every possible means. He even invented new measures for this purpose, among
which the well-known formation of battalions of cattle, an immense rolling
stock destined to follow the columns to serve twofold: for transportation
of provisions, and finally as food.
With the beginning of June these supreme preparations had been made or
seemed to have been made. In the lands through which the troops were to
march before they reached the Niemen, the spring had done its work; there
was abundance of forage.
Napoleon had impatiently awaited this time during ten months of secret
It was the hope of Russia and the fear of those Frenchmen who understood
the Russian climate that the campaign would drag into the winter.
Russians already told of the village blacksmith who laughed when he was
shown a French horseshoe which had been found on the road, and said: "Not
one of these horses will leave Russia if the army remains till frost sets
in!" The French horseshoes had neither pins nor barbed hooks, and it would
be impossible for horses thus shod to draw cannons and heavy wagons up and
down hill over frozen and slippery roads.
The annihilation of the Grand Army is not to be attributed to the cold and
the fearful conditions on the retreat from Moscow alone, the army was in
reality annihilated before it reached Russia, as we shall see by the
following description which I have taken from a Latin dissertation
(translated also into German) of the surgeon of a Wuerttembergian regiment,
Ch. Io. von Scherer, who had served through the whole campaign and in the
year 1820 had submitted this dissertation, "Historia Morborum, qui in
Expeditione Contra Russiam Anno 1812 Facta Legiones Wuerttembergicas
invaserunt, praesertim eorum qui frigore orti sunt," to the Medical
Faculty, presided over by F. G. Gmelin, to obtain the degree of doctor of
The diseases which befell the soldiers in Russia extended over the whole
army. Von Scherer, however, gives his own observations only, which he had
made while serving in the Wuerttembergian corps of fourteen to fifteen
The expedition into Russia in the year 1812 was divided into ten divisions,
each of these numbering fifty to sixty thousand men, all healthy, robust,
most of them hardened in war. The Wuerttembergians were commanded by
General Count von Scheeler and the French General Marchand; the highest
commander was Marshal Ney.
In the beginning of May, 1812, the great army of Napoleon arrived at the
frontier of Poland, whence it proceeded by forced and most tiresome marches
to the river Niemen, which forms the boundary between Lithuania and Poland,
arriving at the borders of the river in the middle of June.
An immense body of soldiers (500,000) met near the city of Kowno, crossed
the Niemen on pontoons, and formed, under the eyes of the Emperor, in
endless battle line on the other side.
The forced march continued day and night over the sandy soil of Poland. The
tropical heat during the day and the low temperature at night, the frequent
rainstorms from the north, the camping on bare and often wet ground, the
ever increasing want of pure water and fresh provisions, the immense masses
of dust, which, cloudlike, hung over the marching columns--all these
difficulties put together had sapped the strength of the soldiers already
at the beginning of the campaign. Many were taken sick before they reached
The march through Lithuania was hastened as much as the march through
Poland. Provisions became scarcer all the time, meat from cattle that had
suffered from starvation and exhaustion was for a long time the soldiers'
only food. The great heat, and the inhalation of sand and dust, dried the
tissues of the body, and the thirsty soldiers longed in vain for a drink of
water. Often there was no other opportunity to quench the thirst than the
water afforded by the swamps. The officers were powerless to prevent the
soldiers from kneeling down at stagnant pools and drinking the foul water
Thus the army, tired to the utmost from overexertion and privation, and
disposed to sickness, entered the land of the enemy. The forced marches
were continued during the day, through sand and dust, until stormy weather
set in with rain, followed by cold winds.
With the appearance of bad weather, dysentery, which had already been
observed at the time of the crossing of the Niemen, showed itself with
greater severity. The route the army had taken from camp to camp was marked
by offensive evacuations. The number of the sick became so great that they
could not all be attended to, and medical treatment became illusory when
the supply of medicaments was exhausted.
The greater part of the army fought in vain, however courageously, against
the extending evil. As everything was wanting of which the sick were in
need, there was no barrier against the spread of the disease, while at the
same time the privations and hardships which had caused it continued and
reached their climax.
Some of these soldiers would march, equipped with knapsack and arms,
apparently in good spirits, but suddenly would succumb and die. Others,
especially those of strong constitution, would become melancholy and commit
suicide. The number of deaths increased from day to day.
Marvelous was the effect of emotion on the disease. Surgeon-General von
Kohlreuter, during and after the battle of Smolensk, witnessed this
influence. Of four thousand Wuerttembergians who took part in that battle,
there were few quite free from dysentery.
Tired and depressed, the army dragged along; but as soon as the soldiers
heard the cannon in the distance, telling them the battle was beginning,
they emerged at once from their lethargy; the expression of their faces,
which had been one of sadness, changed to one of joy and hilarity. Joyfully
and with great bravery they went into action. During the four days that the
battle lasted, and for some days afterward, dysentery disappeared as if
banished by magic. When the battle was over and the privations were the
same again as they had been, the disease returned with the same severity as
before--nay, even worse, and the soldiers fell into complete lethargy.
The necropsy of those who had died from dysentery revealed derangement of
the digestive organs; the stomach, the large intestine, mostly the rectum,
were inflamed; the intima of stomach and duodenum, sometime the whole
intestine, were atonic. In some cases there were small ulcers, with jagged
margins, in the stomach, especially in its fundus, and in the rectum; in
other cases dysentery had proceeded to such an extent that pretty large
ulcers had developed, extending from the stomach into the small and from
there into the large intestine, into the rectum. These ulcers were of sizes
varying from that of a lentil to the size of a walnut. Where the disease
had been progressive the intima, the mucosa and submucosa--very seldom,
however, the serosa--were perforated by ulcers; in many cases there were
gangraenous patches in the fundus of the stomach and along the intestinal
tract. The gastric juice smelled highly acid, frequently the liver was
discolored and contained a bluish liquid, its lower part in most cases
hardened and bluish; the gall bladder, as a rule, was empty or contained
only a small amount of bile; the mesenteric glands were mostly inflamed,
sometimes purulent; the mesenteric and visceral vessels appeared often as
if studded with blood. Such patients had suffered sometimes from gastralgy,
had had a great craving for food, especially vegetables, but were during
that time entirely free from fever.
Remarkably sudden disaster followed the immoderate use of alcohol. Some
Wuerttembergian soldiers, who during the first days of July had been sent
on requisition, had discovered large quantities of brandy in a nobleman's
mansion, and had indulged in its immoderate use and died, like all
dysentery patients who took too much alcohol.
The number of Wuerttembergians afflicted with dysentery, while on the march
from the Niemen to the Dwina, amounted to three thousand, at least this
many were left behind in the hospitals of Malaty, Wilna, Disna, Strizzowan
and Witepsk. The number of deaths in the hospitals increased as the disease
proceeded, from day to day, and the number of those who died on the march
was not small. Exact hospital statistics cannot be given except of
Strizzowan, which was the only hospital from which lists had been
preserved; and here von Scherer did duty during six weeks. Out of 902
patients 301 died during the first three weeks; during the other three
weeks when the patients had better care only 36 died.
In the hospitals established on the march, in haste, in poor villages,
medicaments were either wanting entirely or could be had only in
insufficient quantity. All medical plants which grew on the soil in that
climate were utilized by the surgeons, as, for instance in the hospital of
Witepsk, huckleberries and the root of tormentilla. Establishing the
hospital in Strizzowan von Scherer placed some of his patients in the
castle, others in a barn and the rest in stables. Not without great
difficulties and under dangers he procured provisions from the
neighborhood. As medicaments he used, and sometimes with really good
results, the following plants which were found in abundance in the
vicinity: 1. Cochlearia armoracia; 2. Acorus calamus; 3. Allium sativum; 4.
Raphanus sativus; 5. Menyanthes trifoliata; 6. Salvia officinalis.
In the course of the following three weeks General Count von Scheeler
handed him several thousand florins to be used for the alleviation of the
sufferings of the soldiers under his care, and von Scherer procured from
great distances, namely, from the Polish cities Mohilew, Minsk and Wilna,
suitable medicines and provisions. The proper diet which could now be
secured, together with best medicines, had an excellent effect. This is
seen at a glance when perusing the statistics of the first three and the
last three weeks. In some cases in which the patients had been on the way
to recovery, insignificant causes would bring relapse. Potatoes grew in
abundance in the vicinity of the hospital, and patients would clandestinely
help themselves and eat them in excessive quantities, with fatal result.
In some the intestinal tract remained very weak for a long time. Emaciation
of the convalescents improved only very slowly. Remarkable was a certain
mental depression or indolence which remained in many patients. Even in
officers who von Scherer had known as energetic and good-humored men there
was seen for a long time a morose condition and very noticeable dulness.
Whatever they undertook was done slowly and imperfectly. Sometimes, even
with a kind of wickedness, they showed an inclination to steal or do
something forbidden. Sometimes it was difficult to induce them to take
exercise. Von Scherer, in order to cheer up the convalescents, ordered
daily walks under guard, and this was the more necessary as oedemata
developed on the extremities in those who remained motionless on their
How injurious the immoderate use of alcoholic beverages proved to be was
demonstrated in three cases of convalescents, who were still somewhat weak.
They had secretly procured some bottles of brandy from the cellar of the
hospital, and with the idea of having a good time had drunk all of it in
one sitting. Very soon they had dangerous symptoms: abdominal pain, nausea
and vomiting followed by lachrymation from the protruding and inflamed
eyes. They fell down senseless, had liquid and highly offensive evacuations
and died, in spite of all medical aid, in six hours. On the abdomen, the
neck, the chest and especially on the feet of the corpses of these men
there were gangraenous spots of different sizes, a plain proof that the
acute inflammation, gangraene and putrefaction had been caused by the
excessive irritation of the extremely weak body. Circumstances forbade
necropsy in these cases.
Among different publications on the medical history of Napoleon's campaign
in 1812, which I happened to find, was a dissertation of Marin Bunoust,
"Considerations generales sur la congelation pendant l'ivresse observee en
Russie en 1812." Paris, 1817 (published, therefore, three years before
publication of von Scherer's dissertation), in which the author wishes to
show that the physiological effect of drunkenness on the organism is
identical with that of extreme cold.
Von Scherer, after the hospital of Strizzowan had been evacuated, again
joined his regiment. The French army in forced marches pursued the enemy on
the road to Moscow over Ostrowno, Witepsk and Smolensk. Dysentery did not
abate. In the hospitals of Smolensk, Wiasma and Ghiat, von Scherer found,
besides the wounded from the battles of Krasnoe, Smolensk and Borodino, a
great number of dysentery patients; many died on the march. The whole
presented a pitiful sight, and the soldiers' contempt of life excited
We shall return to von Scherer's dissertation when describing the retreat
While the dissertation of von Scherer treats on the fate of the
Wuerttembergian corps of Napoleon's grand army, a memoir of First
Lieutenant von Borcke who served as adjutant of General von Ochs in the
Westphalian corps relates the fate of the Westphalians in the grand army of
The Westphalians, 23,747 men strong, left Cassel in the month of March,
1812, to unite with the French army. One of the regiments was sent later
and joined the corps while the army was on the retreat from Moscow at
Moshaisk. This regiment, like another, which followed still later and
joined the army on the retreat at Wilna, was annihilated. Of the 23,747 men
a few hundred finally returned. On March 24th., the Westphalians crossed
the Elbe, von Borcke (it is a common error in American literature to spell
the predicate of nobility _von_ with a capital V when at the beginning of a
period, while neither von nor the corresponding French de as predicate of
nobility should ever be spelled with a capital) at that time suffered from
intermittent fever, but was cured by the use of calisaya bark. I mention
this to call attention to the fact that quinine was not known in the year
1812. When the corps marched into Poland the abundance of provisions which
the soldiers had enjoyed, came to an end.
There were no magazines from which rations could have been distributed, and
the poor Polish peasants, upon whom requisitions should have been made, had
nothing for the soldiers. Disorder among the troops who thus far
distinguished themselves by strictest discipline, made its appearance. How
the army was harassed by the plague of dysentery, how the soldiers were
marching during great heat, insufficiently supplied in every way, and how
they suffered from manifold hardships, has been described in von Scherer's
dissertation. The Westphalian corps was in as precarious a condition as the
Wuerttembergian, as in fact the whole army and the Westphalian battalions
were already reduced to one-half their former number. Many soldiers had
remained behind on account of sickness or exhaustion, and officers were
sent back to bring them to the ranks again.
The whole army would have dissolved if the march had not been interrupted.
Napoleon ordered a stay. An order from him called for a rally of the
troops, for the completion of war material, ammunition, and horses and
provisions; but where to take all these things from? The war had not yet
begun, and the troops were already in danger of starvation. Only with
sadness and fear could the soldiers, under these circumstances, look into
In what way, says Ebstein, can this great want, this insufficient supply of
provisions, which made itself felt even at the beginning of the campaign,
be explained? It has been shown how Napoleon exerted himself to meet the
extraordinary difficulty of supplying the grand army of half a million of
men and 100,000 horses with provisions, how well he was aware of the great
danger in this regard, how he superintended and hastened the work of
providing for men and horses by every possible means, that he understood
all the circumstances surrounding the march of the grand army through a
vast country populated by few, and these mostly serfs who had barely
sufficient food for themselves and no means to replenish their stock in
case it should have been exhausted by Napoleon's system of requisition, not
to speak of the marauding to which the French soldiers were soon forced to
resort. Ebstein says that the cause of the sad, the wretched condition
concerning supplies was due to the fact that incompetent officers had been
appointed as commissaries of the army; they held high military rank, were
independent and could not be easily reached for their faults. It happened
that soldiers were starving near well filled magazines, such magazines at
Kowno, Wilna, Minsk, Orcha being not only well, but over, filled, while the
passing troops were in dire need. We shall later on come to frightful
details of this kind.
The miserable maintenance had from the beginning a demoralizing effect on
the men, manifested by desertion, insubordination, marauding, vandalism.
General Sir Robert Wilson, British commissioner with the headquarters of
the Russian army, quoted by Ebstein, says: "The French army, from its very
entrance into the Russian territory (and this cannot be repeated too often
to lend the proper weight to the consequences resulting therefrom),
notwithstanding order on order and some exemplary punishments, had been
incorrigibly guilty of every excess. It had not only seized with violence
all that its wants demanded, but destroyed in mere wantonness what did not
tempt its cupidity. No vandal ferocity was ever more destructive. Those
crimes, however, were not committed with impunity. Want, sickness, and an
enraged peasantry, inflicted terrible reprisals, and caused daily a fearful
reduction of numbers."
But this description of the Englishman will apply to every army in which
there are such difficulties in obtaining the necessary supplies as they
existed here on the forced marches.
Further, he does not speak of the severe punishments meted out to the
culprits. By order of Napoleon entire squads of marauders were shot. Von
Roos, chief physician of a Wuerttembergian regiment, has seen that before
their execution they had to dig their own graves.
In Wilna already Davout ordered the execution of 70, and in Minsk of 13
A Westphalian officer, von Lossberg, commander of a battalion, wrote in his
letters to his wife--which are of great value to the history of the
campaign--from Toloschin on July 25: "On our march we met a detachment of
Davout's corps; they shot before our eyes a commissary of the army who had
been condemned to death for fraud. He had sold for 200 dollars provisions
which had been intended for the soldiers."
Napoleon had stayed several days at Thorn, inspecting the departing troops,
visiting the magazines, bestowing a last glance upon everything. Before the
guards left their cantonments he wanted to see the different corps and hold
a great review. He loved to see again the manly figures of the soldiers,
their chests of iron, these braves who stood before him, immovable in
parade, irresistible in fight. Their bearing and their expression gave him
pleasure. Notwithstanding the fatigues and the privations of the march,
enthusiasm shone on all the faces, in the brightening of all the eyes. He
wanted to give with his own mouth the order "forward march" to the
regiments of the guard, and he saw the endless defile of these proud
uniforms, heard the uninterrupted beating of the drums, the sound of the
trumpets, the acclamation "Vive l'Empereur" of the beautiful troops, the
departure of the officers, every one of whom had orders to set in motion or
to halt human masses. All this great movement around him, by his will, at
his word, animated and excited him. Now, the lot having irrevocably been
cast, he surrenders himself completely to his instincts as warrior, he
feels himself only soldier, the greatest and most ardent who has existed,
he dreams of nothing but victories and conquests. At night, after having
given orders all day long, he slept only at intervals, passing part of the
night walking up and down. One night those on duty, who slept near his
room, were surprised hearing him sing with plain voice a popular song of
the soldiers of the republic.
On June 6th., Napoleon left Thorn while all the army was marching. At
Danzig he saw Murat, whom he had called directly from Naples. He did not
wish him near except for the fight where he would be an ornament in battle
and set a magnificent example. Otherwise he considered his presence useless
and hurtful. He had taken special pains to keep him away from Dresden, from
the assembly of sovereigns, from contact with dynasties of the _ancien
regime_, especially of the house of Austria, because of his being a king of
recent origin. He feared the indiscretion of the newly made kings when
brought together with the sovereigns by the grace of God. He did not wish
that any intimacy should develop between them.
The meeting of the two brothers-in-law was at first cold and painful. Each
had a grievance against the other and did not restrain himself at all to
pronounce it. Murat complained, as he had done before, that he, as King of
Naples, was an instrument of domination and tyranny, and added that he
could find a way to extricate himself from such an intolerable exigency.
Napoleon reproached Murat of his more and more marked inclination to
disobey, of his digression in language and conduct, and of his suspicious
actions. He looked at him with a severe mien, spoke harsh words, and
treated him altogether with severity. But then, suddenly changing his tone,
he spoke to him in a language of friendship, of wounded and misunderstood
friendship, became emotional, complained of ingratitude, and recalled the
memory of their long affection, their military comradery. The king who was
easily moved, was thinking of all the generosity he had enjoyed, and could
not resist the appeal, he became emotional in his turn, almost shed tears,
forgot all grief for a while, and was conquered.
And in the evening before his intimates the emperor lauded himself for
having played excellent comedy to regain Murat, that he had by turns and
very successfully enacted anger and sentimentality with this Italian
_pantaleone_, but, added he, Murat has a good heart.
Ahead of the emperor, between Danzig and Koenigsberg, traversing East
Prussia and some districts of Poland, marched the army--under what
difficulties has been described. At the same time, through the Baltic and
the Frische Haff, came the more ponderous war material, the
pontoons and the heaviest artillery, the siege guns. To complete the supply
of provisions before entering upon the campaign the troops exhausted the
land by making extensive requisitions. The emperor had wished that all
should go on regularly and that everything taken from the inhabitants
should be paid for, but this the soldiers did not consider. They took and
emptied the granaries, tore down the straw from the roofs of the peasants'
houses, barns, and stables to make litter for their horses, and treated the
inhabitants not as friends, but as if they were people of a conquered land.
The cavalry which passed first helped themselves for their horses to all
the hay and all the grass, the artillery and the train were obliged to take
from the fields the green barley and oats, and the army altogether ruined
the population where it passed. The men obliged to disperse during a part
of the day as foragers, got into the habit of disbanding and of looseness
of discipline, and the impossibility manifested itself to keep in order and
in ranks the multitude of different races, different in languages, who with
their many vehicles represented a regular migration.
Everything became monotonous--the country, the absence of an enemy. They
found Prussia and especially Poland, ugly, dirty, miserable, all the houses
were full of dirt and vermin, domestic animals of all kinds were the
intimate syntrophoi of the peasants in their living rooms. The soldiers
bore badly the inconvenience of the lodging, the coolness of the night
following the burning heat of the day, the fogs in the mornings. But they
consoled themselves with illusions, painting the future in rosy colors,
hoping to find across the Niemen a better soil, a different people, more
favorable to the soldier, and longed for Russia as for the promised land.
The Grand Army had arrived at the Niemen. It was on June 24th., the sun
rose radiant and lightened with his fire a magnificent scene. To the troops
was read a short and energetic proclamation. Napoleon came out of his tent,
surrounded by his officers, and contemplated with his field glass the sight
of this prodigious force; hundreds of thousands of soldiers united in one
place! One could not find anything comparable to the enthusiasm which the
presence of Napoleon inspired on that day. The right bank of the river was
covered with these magnificent troops; they descended from the heights and
spread out in long files over the three bridges, resembling three currents;
the rays of the sun glittered on the bayonets and helmets, and the cry
_Vive l'Empereur_! was heard incessantly.
If I were to give a full description to do justice to the magnificent
spectacle I would have to quote from the journals of that epoch, and if I
were a painter I could not find a greater subject for my art.
ON TO MOSCOW
Arrived in Russia the French were soon disappointed; gloomy forests and
sterile soil met the eye, all was sad and silent. After the army had passed
the Niemen and entered into Poland the misery, instead of diminishing,
increased, the hour had struck for these unfortunates. The enemy destroyed
everything on retreating, the cattle were taken to distant provinces; the
French saw the destruction of the fields, the villages were deserted, the
peasants fled upon the appearance of the French army, all inhabitants had
left except the Jews. When the army came to Lithuania everything seemed to
be in league against the French. It was a rainy season, the soldiers
marched through vast and gloomy forests, and all was melancholy. One could
have imagined himself to be in a desert if it had not been for the
vehicles, the cursing of the drivers, discontented on account of hunger and
fatigue, the imprecations of the soldiers on every occasion; bad humor, due
to privations, prevailed everywhere. It would seem as if the furies of hell
were marching at the heels of the army. The roads were in a terrible
condition, almost unpassable on account of the rain which had been
continuous since the crossing of the Niemen; the artillery wagons
especially gave great trouble in passing marshes, and, on account of the
extreme exhaustion of the horses, a great many of these vehicles had to be
abandoned. The horses receiving no nourishment but green herbs could resist
even less than the men and they fell by the hundred.
The improper feeding of the animals caused gastric disturbances,
alternately diarrhoea and constipation, enormous tympanitis, peritonitis.
It is touching to read of the devotion of German cavalrymen to their poor
horses. They would introduce the whole arm into the bowel to relieve the
suffering creatures of the accumulated fecal masses.
As the army advanced over these roads the extreme want of provisions was
bitterly felt. The warriors already reduced to such an excess of misery
were exposed to rain without being able to dry themselves; to nourish
themselves they were forced to resort to the most horrible marauding, and
sometimes they had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours or even longer.
They ran through the land in all directions, disregarding all dangers,
sometimes many miles away from the route, to find provisions. Wherever they
came they went through the houses from the foundation to the roof, and when
they found animals they took them away; no attention was paid to the
feeling of the poor peasants and nothing was considered as being too harsh
for them; in most instances the latter had run away for fear of
maltreatment. Nothing is so afflicting as to see the rapacity of pillaging
soldiers, stealing and destroying everything coming under their hands. They
took to excess vodka found in the magazines which the enemy had not
destroyed, or in the castles off the main route. In consequence of this
abuse of alcohol while in their feeble condition many perished. The enemy
retreated behind the Dwina and fortified himself in camp. It was thought
that he would give battle, and all enjoyed this prospect.
On July 20, at a time when the conditions of the army were already
terrible, the heat became excessive. The rains ceased; there were no rainy
days, except an occasional storm, until September 17. The poor infantrymen
were to be pitied; they had to carry their arms, their effects, their
cartridges, harassed by continuous fatigue, overpowered by hunger and a
thousand sorrows, and were obliged to march 10, 12, 15, and sometimes even
16 and 17 miles a day over dusty roads under a burning sun, all the time
tormented by a cruel thirst. But all this has been fully described in an
On July 23 the Prince of Eckmuehl (Davout) had a very hot engagement with
the Russian army corps under Prince _Bagratian_ before Mohilew; on
July 25, a bloody battle was fought near Ostrowno. The houses and other
buildings of Ostrowno were filled with wounded, the battlefield covered
with corpses of men and horses, and the hot weather caused quick
putrefaction. Kerckhove visited the battlefield on June 28 and says: "I
have no words to describe the horror of seeing the unburied cadavers,
infesting the air, and among the dead many helpless wounded without a
drop of water, exposed to the hot sun, crying in rage and despair."
Napoleon made preparations to attack on July 28, but the enemy had
retreated. At Witepsk, hospitals were established for the wounded from
Ostrowno, among them 800 Russians. However, the designation "hospital" is
hardly applicable, for everything was wanting; the patients in infected
air, crowded, and surrounded by uncleanliness, without food or medicines.
These hospitals were in reality death-houses. The physicians did what they
could. On August 18, the French army entered Smolensk which had been
destroyed by projectiles and by fire; ruins filled with the dead and dying;
and in the midst of this desolation the terror-stricken inhabitants running
everywhere, looking for members of their families--many of whom had been
killed by bullets or by flames--or sitting before their still smoking
homes, tearing their hair, a picture of distress truly heartrending. The
soldiers who were the first to enter Smolensk found flour, brandy and wine,
but these things were devoured in an instant. There were 10 thousand
wounded in the so-called hospitals, and among these unfortunates typhus and
hospital gangraene developed rapidly; the sick lying on the floor without
Holzhausen gives the following description:
After Smolensk had been evacuated by the Russians, most houses had been
burnt out; the retreating Russians had destroyed everything that could be
of any use. Corpses everywhere. Nobody had time to remove them, and the
cannons, the freight wagons, the horses, and the infantry passed over them.
On August 17th and 18th, was the battle of Polotsk in which the Bavarians
distinguished themselves. There were no medicines for the wounded, not even
drinking water, no bread, no salt. Of the many unhealthy places in Russia
this is the worst, it swarms with insects. Nostalgia was prevailing. They
had a so-called dying chamber in the hospital for which the soldiers were
longing, to rest there on straw, never to rise again.
Awaiting their last the pious Bavarians repeated aloud their rosary, took
refuge with the Jesuits, who had a convent at Polotsk, to receive the
consolation of their religion.
Some thought Napoleon would rest here to establish the Polish kingdom. But
this reasonable idea, if he had ever entertained it, he discarded. By
giving his troops winter quarters, establishing magazines and hospitals he
would have succeeded in subduing Russia by reinforcing his army; instead of
all this he went on to Moscow without provisions, without magazines.
On August 30, the army reached Wiasma, a city of 8 thousand or 9 thousand
inhabitants which had been set on fire upon the approach of the French. All
the inhabitants had left. The soldiers fought the flames and saved some
houses into which they brought those of their wounded and sick who could
not drag themselves any farther. Cases of typhus were numerous. From Wiasma
the army marched to Ghiat, a city of 6 thousand or 7 thousand inhabitants;
at this place Napoleon gave a two days' rest in order that the army could
rally, clean their arms and prepare for battle (the battle of Borodino on
September 7. This battle is known under three names: the Russians have
called it after the village of Borodino, of 200 inhabitants, near the
battlefield and have now erected a monument there, a collonade crowned with
a cross; some historians have called it the battle of Moshaisk, after a
nearby town of 4 thousand inhabitants, and Napoleon has named it the battle
of the Moskwa, after a river near the battlefield.) Napoleon had only 120
thousand to 130 thousand under arms, about as many as the Russians. It was
6:30 a.m., a beautiful sunrise. Napoleon called it the sun of Austerlitz.
The Russian generals made their soldiers say their prayers. A French cannon
gave the signal to attack, and at once the French batteries opened the
battle with a discharge of more than 100 cannon. Writing this medical
history of the Russian campaign I feel tempted to give a description of
this most frightful, most cruel of all battles in the history of the world
in which about 1,200 cannon without interruption dealt destruction and
death; fracas and tumult of arms of all kinds, the harangue, the shouts of
the commanders, the cries of rage, the lamentations of the wounded, all
blended into one terrible din. Both armies charged with all the force that
terror could develop. French and Russian soldiers not only fought like
furious lions rivaling each other in ardor and courage, but they fought
with wild joy, devoid of all human feeling, like maniacs; they threw
themselves on the enemy where he was most numerous, in a manner which
manifested the highest degree of despair. The French had to gain the
victory or succumb to misery; victory or death was their only thought. The
Russians felt themselves humiliated by the approach of the French to their
capital, and unshaken as a rock they resisted, defending themselves with
grim determination. The battle, Napoleon promised, would be followed by
peace and good winter quarters, but he was not as good a prophet as he was
a good general.
During the day the Westphalian corps was reduced to 1500 men. Napoleon
ordered these to do guard-duty on the battlefield, transport the immense
number of wounded to the hospitals, bury the dead and to remain while the
army marched and stayed at Moscow. What the Westphalians could do for the
wounded was very little, for everything was wanting. The hospital system
was incomplete, miserable. It is true, the surgeons dressed, operated,
amputated, during the battle and during the days following, a great many
wounded, but their number and their assistance was inadequate for the
enormous task; thousands remained without proper attendance and died.
About one thousand Wuerttembergians were wounded in the battle of Borodino,
and on many of these surgical operations had to be performed. Strange to
say, the greatest operations on enfeebled wounded were more successful, a
great many more were saved, than was generally the case under more
favorable circumstances. Thus Surgeon General von Kohlreuter observed that
in the Russian campaign amputation of an arm, for instance, gave much
better chances, more recoveries, than in the Saxon and French campaigns,
during which latter the soldiers were still robust, well nourished and
well, even in abundance, supplied with everything.
Means of transportation were lacking, for no wagons could be found in the
deserted villages, and for this reason many whose wounds had been dressed
had to be left to their fate--to die. Those but slightly wounded and those
even who could crawl in some manner followed the troops, or went back at
random to find their death in some miserable hut. Many sought refuge in
nearby villages, sometimes miles away from the battle-field, there to fall
into the hands of the Cossacks.
The Westphalians remained on the battle-field surrounded by corpses and
dying men, and they were forced to change position from time to time on
account of the stench. The scenes of suffering and distress which the
battle-field presented everywhere surpassed all description; the groans of
the mutilated and dying followed the men on guard even at a distance, and
especially was this terrible during the night; it filled the heart with
horror, von Borcke said that soldiers, at the request of some of the
wounded in extreme agony, shot them dead and turned the face away while
shooting. And soon they considered this an act of pity. The officers even
induced them to look for those who could not be saved, in order to relieve
them from their suffering. When von Borcke was riding on horseback over the
battle-field on the 5th. day after the battle he saw wounded soldiers lying
alongside the cadaver of a horse, gnawing at its flesh. During the night
flames could be seen here and there on this field of death; these were
fires built by wounded soldiers who had crawled together to protect
themselves from the cold of the night and to roast a piece of horseflesh.
On September 12th. the Westphalians moved to Moshaisk, which was deserted
by all inhabitants, plundered, and half in ashes. While the battle raged
several thousand wounded Russians had taken refuge there, who now, some
alive and some dead, filled all the houses of the town. Burnt bodies were
lying in the ruins of the houses which had been burnt, the entrance of
these places being almost blockaded by cadavers. The only church, which
stood on the public square in the middle of the town, contained several
hundred wounded and as many corpses of men dead for a number of days. One
glance into this infected church, a regular pest-house, made the blood
curdle. Surgeons went inside and had the dead piled up on the square around
the church; those still alive and suffering received the first aid, order
was established and gradually a hospital arranged. Soldiers, Westphalians
as well as Russian prisoners, were ordered to remove the corpses from the
houses and the streets, and then a recleansing of the whole town was
necessary before it could be occupied by the troops. Although there was
only one stone building--and a hundred wooden ones--it gave quarters to
the whole Westphalian corps. Two regiments, one of Hussars, the other of
the light Horse Guards, both together numbering not more than 300 men,
had taken possession of a monastery in the neighborhood. Two regiments
of cuirassiers had marched with the French to Moscow.
In the quarters of Moshaisk the Westphalians enjoyed a time of rest, while
the events in Moscow took place. The fate of those who had remained in
Moshaisk was not enviable, but what had been left of the town offered at
least shelter during the cold nights of the approaching winter. This was a
good deal after the fearful hardships, and it contributed much toward the
recuperation of the soldiers. Convalescents arrived daily, also such as had
remained in the rear; a number of the slightly wounded were able for duty
again, and in this manner the number of men increased to 4,500. Life in
Moshaisk was a constant struggle for sustenance. There were no inhabitants,
not even a single dog or any other living animal which the inhabitants had
left behind. Some provisions found in houses or hidden somewhere benefitted
only those who had discovered them. The place upon the whole was a desert
for the hungry. Small detachments had to be sent out for supplies. At first
this system proved satisfactory, and with what had been brought in from the
vicinity regular rations could be distributed. But the instinct of
self-preservation had become so predominating that every one thought only
of himself. Officers would send men clandestinely for their own sake, and
when this was discovered it ended in a fight and murder. Everyone was
anxious to provide for himself individually, to be prepared for the coming
winter. Sutlers and speculators went to Moscow to take advantage of the
general pillage, to procure luxuries, like coffee, sugar, tea, wine,
delicacies of all description. Notwithstanding the great conflagration at
Moscow immense stores of all these things had come into the hands of the
French, and this had an influence on Moshaisk, forty miles away from the
metropolis, von Borke was fortunate enough to secure a supply of coffee,
tea, and sugar, sufficient not only for himself, but also for some friends,
and lasting even for some weeks on the retreat. But the supply of meat, and
especially bread, was inadequate for the mass of soldiers. Ten days had
elapsed when the situation of those in Moshaisk became grave again, namely,
when communication with Moscow was cut off. Orderlies did not arrive, no
more convalescents came, news could not be had, details of soldiers sent
out for supplies were killed or taken prisoner by Cossacks. The retreat of
the French army, the last act of the great drama, commenced.
While the Westphalians guarded the battle-field the army marched to Moscow,
exhausted, starving, finding new sufferings every day. On the road from
Moshaisk to Moscow they encountered frightful conditions in the villages
which were filled with wounded Russians. These unfortunates, abandoned to
cruel privations, dying as much from starvation as from their wounds,
excited pity. The water even was scarce, and when a source was discovered
it was generally polluted, soiled with all sorts of filth, infected by
cadavers; but all this did not prevent the soldiers from drinking it with
great avidity, and they fought among themselves to approach it. All these
details have to be known before studying typhus in the grand army.
* * * * *
The description of diseases given by the physicians who lived a century ago
is for us unsatisfactory; we cannot understand what they meant by their
vague designating of hepatitis, fibrous enteritis, diarrhoea and dysentery,
peripneumonia, remittent and intermittent gastric fever, protracted nervous
fever, typhus and synochus; there is no distinction made in any of the
writings of that period between abdominal and exanthematic typhus.
However, before long physicians will discard much from our present medical
onomatology that is ridiculous, absurd, incorrect, in short, unscientific,
as, for instance, the designation typhoid fever.
Ebstein has pointed out all that is obscure to us in the reports of the
physicians of the Russian campaign; for instance, that we cannot
distinguish what is meant by the different forms of fever. According to the
views of those times fever was itself a disease _per se_; when reaction was
predominating it was called synocha, typhus when weakness was the feature,
and in case of a combination of synocha and typhus it was called synochus,
a form in which there was at first an inflammatory and later on a typhoid
stage, but which form could not be distinguished exactly from typhus. From
all the descriptions in the reports of the Russian campaign it can be
deduced that many of the cases enumerated were of exanthematic typhus,
notwithstanding that the symptomatology given is very incomplete, not to
speak of the pathological anatomy. The only writer who has described
necropsies is von Scherer. Some of the physicians speak only of the sick
and the diseases, as Bourgeois, who says that on the march to Russia during
the sultry weather the many cadavers of horses putrefied rapidly, filling
the air with miasms, and that this caused much disease; further, in
describing the retreat he only says that the army was daily reduced in
consequence of the constant fighting, the privations and diseases,
without enumerating which diseases were prevailing; only in a note
attached to his booklet he mentions that the most frequent of the
ravaging diseases of that time and during the Russian campaign in general
was typhus, and there can be no doubt it was petechial or exanthematic
typhus, for which the English literature has the vague name typhus fever.
Very interesting are the historical data given by Ebstein: "As is well
known, the fourth and most severe typhus period of the eighteenth century
began with the wars of the French revolution and ended only during the
second decade of the nineteenth century with the downfall of the Napoleonic
empire and the restoration of peace in Germany." During the Russian
campaign the conditions for spreading the disease were certainly the most
Krantz, whom I shall quote later on, has described the ophthalmy prevailing
in York's corps as being of a mild character.
Quite different forms reigned among the soldiers on their retreat from
The description of the death from frost given by von Scherer is similar to
that given by Bourgeois. The men staggered as if drunk, their faces were
red and swollen, it looked as if all their blood had risen into their head.
Powerless they dropped, as if paralyzed, the arms were hanging down, the
musket fell out of their hands. The moment they lost their strength tears
came to their eyes, repeatedly they arose, apparently deprived of their
senses, and stared shy and terror-stricken at their surroundings. The
physiognomy, the spasmodic contractions of the muscles of the face,
manifested the cruel agony which they suffered. The eyes were very
red, and drops of blood trickled from the conjunctiva. Without
exaggeration it could be said of these unfortunates that they shed bloody
tears. These severe forms of ophthalmy caused by extreme cold would have
ended in gangraene of the affected parts if death had not relieved the
misery of these unfortunates.
But Bourgeois describes another very severe form of ophthalmy among the
soldiers which caused total blindness. It appeared when the army on its
retreat was in the vicinity of Orscha, attacked many soldiers and resembled
the ophthalmy which was prevailing in Egypt; there it was caused by the
heated sand reflecting powerfully the rays of the sun; here, by the glaring
white snow likewise reflecting the rays of the sun. Bourgeois considers as
predisposing moments the smoke of the camp-fires, the want of sleep, the
marching during the night, and describes the affection as follows: The
conjunctiva became dark red, swelled together with the eyelids; there was a
greatly exaggerated lachrymal secretion associated with severe pain; the
eyes were constantly wet, the photophobia reached such a degree that the
men became totally blind, suffered most excruciating pain and fell on the
Ebstein availed himself of the publications of J. L. R. de Kerckhove, Rene
Bourgeois, J. Lemazurier, and Joh. von Scherer, and the manuscript of
Harnier from which writings he collected all that refers to the diseases
of the grand army. It may not be out of place to quote the interesting
writings of de Kerckhove concerning the army physicians and Napoleon and
De Kerckhove left Mayence on March 6th., 1812, attached to the headquarters
of the 3rd. corps, commanded by Ney; at Thorn he joined those braves with
whom he entered Moscow on September 14th. and with whom he left on October
19th. When he returned to Berlin in the beginning of February, 1813, the
3rd. corps was discharged. He writes: The army was not only the most
beautiful, but there was none which included so many brave warriors, more
heroes. How many parents have cried over the loss of their children
tenderly raised by them, how many sons, the only hope and support of their
father and mother, have perished, how many bonds of friendship have been
severed, how many couples have been separated forever, how many unfortunate
ones drawn into misery? An army extinguished by hunger and cold!
Giving credit to the physicians and surgeons who took part in that
unfortunate expedition he says: With what noble zeal they tried to do their
duties. The horror of the privations, the severity of the climate and
fatigues and the want of eatables and medicines which characterized the
hospitals and ambulances in Russia, have not discouraged the physicians so
far as to become indifferent to the terrible fate reserved for the sick. On
the contrary, far from allowing themselves to relax, they have doubled
their activity to ameliorate sufferings. We have seen physicians
in the midst of the carnage and the terror of the battles extend their care
and bring consolation; we have seen them sacrificing day and night in
hospital service, succumbing to murderous epidemics; in one word, despising
all danger when it was a question of relieving the sufferings of the
warriors, immaterial whether Russian or French. We can speak of many sick
or wounded left in ambulances or hospitals in want of food and medicines,
many of such unfortunates deprived of everything, dragging themselves under
the ruins of cities or villages, who found help from honest physicians.
THE GRAND ARMY IN MOSCOW
Three fifths of the houses and one half of the churches were destroyed. The
citizens had burned their capital. Before this catastrophe of 1812 Moscow
was an aristocratic city. According to old usage, the Russian nobility
spent the winter there, they came from their country seats with hundreds of
slaves and servants and many horses; their palaces in the city were
surrounded by parks and lakes, and many buildings were erected on the
grounds, as lodgings for the servants and slaves, stables, magazines. The
number of servants was great, many of them serving for no other purpose
than to increase the number, and this calling was part of the luxury of the
noblemen. The house of the seigneur was sometimes of brick, rarely of
stone, generally of wood, all were covered with copper plates or with iron,
painted red or green. The magazines were mostly stone buildings, on account
of the danger of fire. At that time the Russian nobility had not yet
accustomed itself to consider St. Petersburg the capital, they were
obstinate in the determination to come every winter to hold court in the
mother of Russian cities. The conflagration of 1812 broke this tradition.
The nobility, not willing or not being able to rebuild their houses, rented
the ground to citizens, and industry, prodigiously developing since then,
has taken possession of Moscow. This is how the city has lost its floating
population of noblemen and serfs, which amounted to 100 thousand souls,
and how the aristocratic city has become an industrial one. It is a new
city, but the fire of 1812, from the ashes of which it has risen, has
left impressions on the monuments. Step by step in the Kremlin and in
the city proper are found souvenirs of the patriotic war. You enter the
Kremlin which Napoleon tried to explode, and which has been restored,
you visit there the church of the Annunciation, and you will be told
that the French soldiers had stabled their horses on the pavement
of agate; you visit the church of the Assumption and you will be shown the
treasures which, on the approach of the French, had been taken to places of
safety; you raise your eye to the summit of the tower of Ivan and you learn
that the cross had been removed by the invaders and found in the baggage of
the Grand Army. The door of St. Nicholas has an inscription recalling the
miracle by which this door was saved in 1812. The tower surmounting it was
split by an explosion from above downward, but the fissure ended at the
very point where the icon is found; the explosion of 500 pounds of powder
did not break even the glass which covers the image or the crystal of the
lamp which burns before it. Along the walls of the arsenal are the cannon
taken from the enemy, and in the arsenal are other trophies, including the
camp-bed of Napoleon.
Russian accounts from eye-witnesses of the conflagration are few--in fact,
there exists none in writing. People who witnessed the catastrophe could
not write. What we possess are collections from verbal accounts given by
servants, serfs, who had told the events to their masters. Nobody of
distinction had remained in Moscow, none of the nobility, the clergy, the
merchants. The persons from whom the following accounts are given were the
nun Antonine, a former slave of the Syraxine family, the little peddler
Andreas Alexieef, a woman, Alexandra Alexievna Nazarot, an old slave of the
family Soimonof by the name of Basilli Ermolaevitch, the wife of a pope,
Maria Stepanova, the wife of another pope, Helene Alexievna. A Russian
lady has collected what she had learned from these humble people,
the eye-witnesses of the catastrophe, and published it, pseudonym,
in some Russian journal. All these people had minutely narrated their
experiences to her at great length, not omitting any detail which
concerned themselves or circumstances which caused their surprise, and
they all gave the dates, the hours which they had tenaciously kept in
their memory for sixty years, for it was in the year 1872 when the
Russian lady interrogated them. Some had retained from those days of
terror such vivid impressions that a conflagration or the sight of a
soldier's casque would cause them palpitation of the heart. There is
much repetition in their narrations, for all had seen the same: the
invasion, the enemy, the fire kindled by their own people, the misery,
the dearth, the pillage. There exist documents of the events in Moscow of
1812, the souvenirs of Count de Toll, the apology of Rostopchine, which we
shall come to in another chapter, the recitals of Domerque, of Wolzogen, of
Segur, but these reminiscences of people in Moscow are the only ones from
persons who actually suffered by the catastrophe, and they are in their way
as valuable as the writings of our two writers, von Scherer and von Borcke.
These plain people know nothing of the days of Erfurt, nothing of the
continental blocus, nothing of the withdrawal of Alexander from the
French Alliance; the bearers of the toulloupes (sheepskin furs) in the
streets of Moscow of the beginning of 1812 knew nothing of the
confederation of the Rhine; all they knew of Bonaparte was that he had
often beaten the Germans, and that on his account they had to pay more for
sugar and coffee. To them the great comet of 1811 was the first
announcement of coming great events. Let us see the reflections which the
comet inspired in the abbess of the Devitchi convent and the nun Antonine,
and this will give us an idea of the mental condition of the latter, one of
the narrators. "One evening," she relates, "we were at service in St.
John's church, when all of a sudden I noticed on the horizon a gerbe of
resplendent flames. I cried out and dropped my lantern. Mother abbess came
to me to learn what had caused my fright, and when she also had seen the
meteor she contemplated a long time. I asked, Matouchka, what star is this?
She answered this is no star, this is a comet. I asked again what is a
comet? I never had heard that word. The mother then explained to me that
this was a sign from heaven which God had sent to foretell great
misfortune. Every evening this comet was seen, and we asked ourselves what
calamity this one might bring us. In the cells of the convent, in the shops
of the city, the news, traveling as the crow flies, was heard that
Bonaparte was leading against Russia an immense army, the like of which the
world had never seen. Only the veterans of the battles of Austerlitz,
Eylau, and Friedland could give some information, some details of the
character of the invader. The direction which Napoleon took on his march
left no doubt to any one that he would appear in Moscow. In order to raise
the courage which was sinking they had the miraculous image of the Virgin
conductrice brought from Smolensk, which place was to be visited by the
French. This icon was exposed in the cathedral of St. Michael the
Archangel, for veneration by the people. The abbess of our convent, who was
from Smolensk, had a special devotion for this image, she went with all the
nuns to salute the Protatrix. At St. Michael the Archangel there was a
great crowd so that one hardly could stand, especially were there many
women, all crying. When we, the nuns, began to push, to get near the image,
one after the other in a line endlessly long, they looked upon us with
impatience. One woman said: 'These soutanes should make room for us, it is
not their husbands, it is our husbands', our sons' heads, which will be
exposed to the guns.'"
Rostopchine tried his best to keep the population at peace by his original
proclamations, which were pasted on all the walls and distributed
broadcast. After Borodino he urged the people to take up arms, and he
promised to be at the head of the men to fight a supreme battle on the
Three Mountains. Meanwhile he worked to save the treasures of the church,
the archives, the collections of precious objects in the government
palaces. From the arsenal he armed the people. A tribune was erected from
which the metropolitan addressed the multitude and made them kneel down to
receive his blessing. Rostopchine stood behind the metropolitan and came
forward after the priest had finished his ellocution, saying that he had
come to announce a great favor of his majesty. As a proof that they should
not be delivered unarmed to the enemy, his majesty permitted them to
pillage the arsenal, and the people shouted: "Thanks, may God give to the
Tzar many years to live!" This was a very wise idea of Rostopchine to have
the arsenal emptied, a feat which he could not have accomplished in time in
any other way. The pillage lasted several days and went on in good order.
* * * * *
The French had entered Moscow. The first word of Napoleon to Mortier, whom
he had named governor of Moscow, was "no pillage!" But this point of honor
had to be abandoned. The 100 thousand men who had entered were troops of
the elite, but they came starving at the end of their adventurous
expedition. During the first days they walked the streets in search of a
piece of bread and a little wine. But little had been left in the cellars
of the abandoned houses and in the basements of the little shops, and with
the conflagration there was almost nothing to be found. The Grand Army was
starving as much almost as on the march. Dogs which had returned in
considerable numbers to lament on the ruins of the houses of their masters
were looked upon as precious venison. The uniforms were already in rags,
and the Russian climate made itself felt. These poor soldiers, poorly clad,
dying from starvation, were begging for a piece of bread, for linen or
sheepskin, and, above all, for shoes. There was no arrangement for the
distribution of rations; they had to take from wherever they could, or
Napoleon established himself in the Kremlin, the generals in the mansions
of the noblemen, the soldiers in the taverns or private houses until the
fire dislodged them. Napoleon, with a part of his staff, was obliged to
seek refuge in the park Petrovski, the commanders took quarters wherever
they could, the soldiers dispersed themselves among the ruins.
Supervision had become an impossibility. The men, left to
themselves, naturally lost all discipline under these circumstances of
deception and under so many provocations among a hostile population.
Notwithstanding all these conditions, they behaved well in general and to a
great extent showed self-control and humanity toward the conquered. The
example of pillage had been set by the Russians themselves. Koutouzof had
commanded the destruction of the mansions. The slaves burned the palaces of
All eye-witnesses speak of the extreme destitution of the soldiers in
regard to clothing after one month's stay in Moscow. Already at this time,
even before the most terrible and final trials of the retreat which awaited
them, one had to consider them lost. When they first took to woman's
clothes or shoes or hats it was considered an amusement, a joke, but very
soon a mantilla, a soutane, a veil became a precious object and nobody
laughed at it when frozen members were wrapped in these garments. The
greatest calamity was the want of shoes. Some soldiers followed women
simply for the purpose of taking their shoes from them. A special chapter
of horrors could be written on the sufferings of the soldiers on the
retreat over ice and snow fields on account of the miserable supply of
At first Napoleon reviewed the regiments near the ponds of the Kremlin, and
at the first reviews the troops marched proudly, briskly, with firm step,
but soon they began to fail with astonishing rapidity. They answered the
roll of the drums calling them together, clad in dirty rags and with torn
shoes, in fast diminishing numbers. During the last weeks of their stay in
Moscow many had reached the last stage of misery, after having wandered
through the streets looking for a little bit of nourishment, dressed up as
for a carnival, but without desire to dance, as one remarked in grim humor.
These were the men whose destination had brought them many hundreds of
miles from home to the semi-Asiatic capital of the Ivans, who had been
drinking in the glory and the joy of warriors, and who now died from hunger
and cold, with their laurels still intact. Thanks to the authorized
military requisitions and the excesses of the stragglers of the Grand Army,
a desert had been made of the city before Napoleon had begun his retreat.
No more cattle, no provisions, and the inhabitants gone, camping with wife
and children in the deepest parts of the forests. Those who had remained or
returned to the villages, organized against marauders whom they received
with pitchforks or rifles, and these peasants gave no quarter.
"The enemy appeared nearly every day in our village (Bogorodsic)," says
Maria Stepanova, the wife of a pope, "and as soon as they were perceived
all men took up arms; our cossacks charged them with their long sabers or
shot them with their pistols, and behind the cossacks were running the
peasants, some with axes, some with pitchforks. After every excursion they
brought ten or more prisoners which they drowned in the Protka which runs
near the village, or they fusilladed them on the prairie. The unfortunates
passed our windows, my mother and I did not know where to hide ourselves in
order not to hear their cries and the report of the firearms. My poor
husband, Ivan Demitovitch, became quite pale, the fever took him,
his teeth chattered, he was so compassionate! One day the cossacks brought
some prisoners and locked them up in a cart-house built of stone. They are
too few, they said, it is not worth while to take any trouble about them
now; with the next lot which we shall take we will shoot or drown them
together. This cart-house had a window with bars. Peasants came to look at
the prisoners and gave them bread and boiled eggs; they did not want to see
them starving while awaiting death. One day when I brought them eatables I
saw at the window a young soldier--so young! His forehead was pressed
against the bars, tears in his eyes, and tears running down his cheeks. I
myself began to cry, and even to-day my heart aches when I think of him. I
passed lepecheks through the bars and went away without looking behind me.
At that time came an order from the government that no more prisoners
should be killed but sent to Kalouga. How we were contented!"
Many savageries have been committed by the low class of Russians who had
remained in Moscow. This is not surprising because these were of the most
depraved of the population, including especially many criminals who had
been set free to pillage and burn the city. "A little while before the
French entered," tells the serf Soimonof, "the order had been given to
empty all the vodka (whiskey) from the distilleries of the crown into the
street; the liquor was running in rivulets, and the rabble drank until they
were senselessly drunk, they had even licked the stones and the wooden
pavement. Shouting and fighting naturally followed."
The really good people of Moscow had given proofs of high moral qualities,
worthy of admiration, under the sad circumstances. Poor moujiks who had
learned of the defeat of the Russians at Borodino said their place was no
longer in a city which was to be desecrated by the presence of the enemy,
and, leaving their huts to be burned down, their miserable belongings to be
pillaged, they went on the highways at the mercy of God, disposed to march
as long as their eyes could see before them. Others, running before the
flames, carried their aged and sick on their shoulders, showing but one
sentiment in their complete ruin, namely, absolute resignation to the will
Some readers may say that the foregoing chapter does not give the medical
history of the campaign. To these I wish to reply that it is impossible to
understand the medical history without knowing the general conditions of
the Grand Army, which were the cause of the death of hundreds of thousands
of soldiers from cold and starvation.
The conflagration of Moscow in 1812 and the fall of the French empire are
two facts which cannot be separated, but to the name of Moscow is attached
another name, that of Rostopchine. Count Fedor Wassiljavitch Rostopchine is
connected with one of the greatest events in universal history. He caused a
crisis which decided the fate of Russia and arrested the march of ascending
France by giving the death blow to Napoleon. The latter, in admitting that
Rostopchine was the author of his ruin, meant him when he said, "one man
less, and I would have been master of the world."
Until the year 1876 there existed a mystery around this man and his deed, a
mystery which was deepened by Rostopchine himself when he published in 1823
a pamphlet entitled "The Truth about the Conflagration of Moscow," which
did not give the truth but was a mystification.
Alexander Popof, a Russian Counselor of State, who made a special study of
the history of the Russian campaign of Napoleon, has explored the archives
of St. Petersburg, and his researches, the result of which he published in
Russian in the year 1876, have brought to light all diplomacy had concealed
about the events which led to the destruction of the Russian capital.
What document, one might ask, could be more precious than the memoirs of
Rostopchine, the governor of Moscow in 1812? What good fortune for the
historian! In 1872 Count Anatole de Segur, grandson of Rostopchine, the
author of a biography of the latter, wrote, concerning these memoirs, that
they were seized, together with all the papers of his grand-father, by
order of the Emperor Nicholas, immediately after Rostopchine's death in the
year 1826, and were locked up in the archives of the Imperial Chancellor
where they would remain, perhaps forever. Fortunately, one of the daughters
of Count Rostopchine had taken a copy of some passages of this precious
manuscript. These passages were published in 1864 by a son of Rostopchine,
Count Alexis R., in a book entitled "Materiaux en grande partie inedits,
pour la biographie future du Comte Rostopchine," which is of a rare
bibliographic value, for only twelve copies were printed. These same
fragments, three in number, were reproduced by Count Anatole de Segur in
the biography of his ancestor, of which we have spoken. Aside from these
extracts nothing was known of Rostopchine's memoirs until Popof had made
his researches. To verify the memoirs Popof quotes long passages which he
compares carefully with other documents of that epoch. This book on the
whole is a continuous commentary upon the memoirs of Rostopchine.
Rostopchine, having been made governor of Moscow in March, 1812, wrote to
the Tzar: "Your empire has two strongholds, its immensity and its climate.
It has these 16,000,000 men who profess the same creed, speak the same
language, and whose chin has never been touched by a razor. The long beards
are the power of Russia, and the blood of your soldiers will be a seed of
heroes. If unfortunate circumstances should force you to retreat before the
invader, the Russian emperor will always be terrible in Moscow, formidable
in Kazan, invincible at Tobolsk." This letter was dated June 11/23, 1812.
At that time Rostopchine was 47 years of age, in perfect health and had
developed a most extraordinary activity, something which was not known of
his predecessors; the governors of Moscow before his time had been old and
decrepit. He understood the character of the Russian people and made
himself popular at once, and adored, because he made himself accessible to
everybody. He himself describes how he went to work: "I announced that every
day from 11 to noon everybody had access to me, and those who had something
important to communicate would be received at any hour during the day. On
the day of my taking charge I had prayers said and candles lighted before
such miraculous pictures as enjoyed the highest popular veneration. I
studied to show an extraordinary politeness to all who had dealings with
me; I courted the old women, the babblers and the pious, especially the
latter. I resorted to all means to make myself agreeable; I had the coffins
raised which served as signs to the undertakers and the inscriptions pasted
on the church doors. It took me two days to pull the wool over their eyes
(_pour jeter la poudre aux yeux_) and to persuade the greater part of the
inhabitants that I was indefatigable and that I was everywhere. I succeeded
in giving this idea by appearing on the same morning at different places,
far apart from each other, leaving traces everywhere of my justice and
severity; thus on the first day I had arrested an officer of the
military hospital whose duty it was to oversee the distribution of the
soup, but who had not been present when it was time for dinner. I rendered
justice to a peasant who had bought 30 pounds of salt but received only 25;
I gave the order to imprison an employee who had not done his duty; I went
everywhere, spoke to everyone and learned many things which afterward were
useful to me. After having tired to death two pairs of horses I came home
at 8 o'clock, changed my civilian costume for the military uniform and made
myself ready to commence my official work." Thus Rostopchine took the
Moscovitians by their foibles, played the role of Haroun-al-Raschid, played
comedy; he even employed agents to carry the news of the town to him, to
canvass war news and to excite enthusiasm in the cafes and in all kinds of
resorts of the common people.
When the emperor notified him one day of his coming visit to the capital
and transmitted a proclamation in which he announced to his people the
danger of the country, Rostopchine developed great activity. "I went to
work," he writes in his memoirs, "was on my feet day and night, held
meetings, saw many people, had printed along with the imperial proclamation
a bulletin worded after my own fashion, and the next morning the people of
Moscow on rising learned of the coming of the sovereign. The nobility felt
flattered on account of the confidence which the emperor placed in them,
and became inspired with a noble zeal, the merchants were ready to give
money, only the common people apparently remained indifferent, because they
did not believe it possible that the enemy could enter Moscow." The
longbeards repeated incessantly:
"Napoleon cannot conquer us, he would have to exterminate us all."
But the streets became crowded with people, the stores were closed, every
one went first to the churches to pray for the Tzar, and from there to the
gate of Dragomilof to salute the imperial procession upon its arrival. The
enthusiasm ran so high that the idea was conceived to unhitch the horses
from his coach and carry him in his carriage. This, as Rostopchine tells
us, was the intention not only of the common people but of many
distinguished ones also, even of such as wore decorations. The emperor, to
avoid such exaggerated manifestations, was obliged to arrange for his entry
during the night. On the next morning when the Tzar, according to the old
custom, showed himself to his people on the red stairs, the hurrahs, the
shouts of the multitude drowned the sounds of the bells of the forty times
forty churches which were ringing in the city. At every step, thousands of
hands tried to touch the limbs of the sovereign or the flap of his uniform
which they kissed and wet with their tears.
"I learned during the night," writes Rostopchine, "and it was confirmed in
the morning, that there were some persons who had united to ask the emperor
how many troops we had, how many the enemy, and what were the means of
defense. This would have been a bold and, under the present circumstances,
a dangerous undertaking, although I hardly feared that these people would
venture to do so, because they were of those who are brave in private and
poltroons in public.
"At any rate, I had said repeatedly and before everybody that I hoped to
offer the emperor the spectacle of an assembly of a faithful and respectful
nobility, and that I should be in despair if some malevolent person should
permit himself to create disorder and forget the presence of the
sovereign. I promised that any one who would do this might be sure of being
taken in hand and sent on a long journey before he would have finished his
"To give more weight to my words I had stationed, not far from the palace,
two telegues (two-wheeled carts) hitched up with mail horses and two police
officers in road uniform promenading before them. If some curious person
should ask them for whom these telegues were ready, they had orders to
answer, 'for those who will be sent to Siberia.'
"These answers and the news of the telegues soon spread among the assembly;
the bawlers understood and behaved."
The nobility of Riazen had sent a deputation to the emperor to offer him 60
thousand men, armed and equipped. Balachef, the minister of police,
received this deputation scornfully and ordered them to leave Moscow at
There were other offers which were not surprising at that period when the
mass of the people consisted of serfs, but which appear strange to us.
"Many of my acquaintances," writes Kamarovski, "said that they would give
their musicians, others the actors of their theaters, others their hunters,
as it was easier to make soldiers of them than of their peasants."
The Russian noblemen in their love for liberty sacrificed their slaves.
Rostopchine, together with many aristocrats, was not entirely at ease. It
was something anomalous to call to arms for the sake of liberty a nation of
serfs who vividly felt the injustice of their situation; besides, it had
been heard that some moujiks said, "Bonaparte comes to bring us liberty, we
do not want any more seigneurs."
The Russian people in their generality, however, did not justify the fears
of the aristocrats. Their religious fanaticism, nourished by the priests,
their passionate devotion to the Tzar, made them forget their own, just
In Moscow business was at a standstill, the ordinary course of things was
likewise suspended, the population lived in the streets, forming a nervous
crowd, subject to excitement and terror. The question was to keep them in
Here Rostopchine's inborn talent as tribune and publicist, as comedian and
tragedian, showed itself to perfection. He gave a free rein to his
imagination in his placards, in which he affected the proverbial language
of the moujik, made himself a peasant, more than a peasant, in his
eccentric style, to excite patriotism. He published pamphlets against the
French, and the coarser his language the more effect it had on the masses.
"At this time," he writes, "I understood the necessity of acting on the
mind of the people to arouse them so that they should prepare themselves
for all the sacrifices, for the sake of the country. Every day I
disseminated stories and caricatures, which represented the French as
dwarfs in rags, poorly armed, not heavier than a gerbe which one could lift
with a pitchfork."
For curiosity's sake, as an example of his style of fiction by which he
fascinated the Russian peasantry may serve the translation of one of the
stories: "Korniouchka Tchikhirine, an inhabitant of Moscow, a veteran,
having been drinking a little more than usual, hears that Bonaparte
is coming to Moscow, he becomes angry, scolds in coarse terms all
Frenchmen, comes out of the liquor store and under the eagle with
the two heads (the sign that the place is the crown's) he shouts:
What, he will come to us! But you are welcome! For Christmas or
carnival you are invited. The girls await you with knots in their
handkerchiefs, your head will swell. You will do well to dress as the
devil; we shall say a prayer, and you will disappear when the cock crows.
Do better, remain at home, play hide and seek or blind man's buff. Enough
of such farces! don't you see that your soldiers are cripples, dandies?
They have no touloupes, no mittens, no onoutchi (wrappings around the legs
in place of stockings). How will they adapt themselves to Russian habits?
The cabbage will make them bloated, the gruel will make them sick, and
those who survive the winter will perish by the frost at Epiphany. So it
is, yes. At our house doors they will shiver, in the vestibule they will
stand with chattering teeth; in the room they will suffocate, on the stove
they will be roasted. But what is the use of speaking? As often as the
pitcher goes to the well, as often their head will be broken. Charles of
Sweden was another imprudent one like you, of pure royal blood, he has gone
to Poltava, he has not returned. Other rabbits than you Frenchmen were the
Poles, the Tartars, the Swedes; our forefathers, however, have dealt with
them so that one can yet see the tomb-hills around Moscow, as numerous as
mushrooms, and under these mushrooms rest their bones. Ah! our holy mother
Moscow, it is not a city, it is an empire. You have left at home only the
blind and the lame, the old women and the little children. Your size is not
big enough to match the Germans; they will at the first blow throw you on
your back (this remark is wonderfully prophetic). And Russia, do you know
what that is, you cracked head? Six hundred thousand longbeards have been
enlisted, besides 300 thousand soldiers with bare chins, and 200 thousand
veterans. All these are heroes; they believe in one God, obey one Tzar,
make the sign with one cross, these are all brethren. And if it pleases our
father and Tzar, Alexander Pavlovitch, he has to say only one word: To arms,
Christians! And you will see them rising. And even if you should beat the
vanguard? Take your ease! the others will give you such a chase that the
memory of it will remain in all eternity. To come to us! well then! Not
only the tower of Ivan the Great, but also the hill of Prosternations will
remain invisible to you even in your dream. We shall rely on white Russia
and we shall bury you in Poland. As one makes his bed so one sleeps. On
this account reflect, do not proceed, do not start the dance. Turn about
face, go home, and from generation to generation remember what it is, the
Russian nation. Having said all, Tchikhirine went on, briskly singing, and
the people who saw him go said wherever he came, that is well spoken, it is
Rostopchine knew very well how to make Tchikhirine speak when he had been
drinking more than usual, he knew how to make the saints speak, he invented
pious legends which were not guaranteed by the Holy Synod and not found in
the Lives of the Saints.
"After the battle of Borodino," said he in his memoirs, "I ceased to have
recourse to little means to distract the people and occupy their attention.
It required an extraordinary effort of the imagination to invent something
that would excite the people. The most ingenious attempts do not always
succeed, while the clumsy ones take a surprising effect. Among those of the
latter kind there was a story after my fashion of which 5 thousand copies
at one kopek a copy were sold in one day."
The population of Moscow was in a peculiar moral condition. They were most
superstitious, believed the most improbable reports and saw signs from
heaven of the downfall of Napoleon.
"In the city," writes Rostopchine, "rumors were current of visions, of
voices which had been heard in the graveyards. Passages from the
Apocalypsis were quoted referring to Napoleon's fall."
But Rostopchine himself, was he free from credulity? A German by the name
of Leppich constructed, secretly, in one of the gardens of Moscow, a
balloon by means of which the French army should be covered with fire, and
some historians say that Rostopchine was one of the most enthusiastic
admirers of Leppich.
As it may be interesting to learn how he was ahead of his time in regard to
ideas about military balloons let us give the full statement of Popof on
In 1812 in Moscow it was exactly as in 1870 in Paris; everybody built hopes
on the military airship, and expected that by means of a Greek fire from a
balloon the whole army of the enemy would be annihilated. Rostopchine, in a
letter dated May 7/19, 1812, gave an account to Emperor Alexander of the
precautions he had taken that the wonderful secret of the construction of
the airship by Leppich should not be revealed. He took the precaution not
to employ any workmen from Moscow. He had already given Leppich 120
thousand rubles to buy material.
"To-morrow," he writes, "under the pretext of dining with some one living
in his vicinity I shall go to Leppich and shall remain with him for a long
time; it will be a feast to me to become more closely connected with a man
whose invention will render military art superfluous, free mankind of its
internal destroyer, make of you the arbiter of kings and empires and the
benefactor of mankind."
In another letter to the emperor, dated June 11/23, 1812, he writes, "I
have seen Leppich; he is a very able man and an excellent mechanician. He
has removed all my doubts in regard to the contrivances which set the wings
of his machine in motion (indeed an infernal construction) and which
consequently might do still more harm to humanity than Napoleon himself.
I am in doubt about one point which I submit to the judgment of your
majesty: when the machine will be ready Leppich proposes to embark on it to
fly as far as Wilna. Can we trust him so completely as not to think of
treason on his part?" Three weeks later he wrote to the emperor "I am fully
convinced of success. I have taken quite a liking to Leppich who is also
very much attached to me; his machine I love like my own child. Leppich
suggests that I should make an air voyage with him, but I cannot decide
about this without the authorization of your majesty."
On September 11th., four days before the evacuation, the fate of Moscow was
decided. On that day at 10 o'clock in the forenoon the following
conversation took place in the house of Rostopchine between him and Glinka.
"Your excellency," said Glinka, "I have sent my family away."
"I have already done the same," answered the count, and tears were in his
"Now," added he, "Serge Nicholaevitch, let us speak like two true friends
of our country. In your opinion, what will happen if Moscow is abandoned?"
"Your excellency knows what I have dared to say on the 15/27 July in the
assembly of the nobility; but tell me in all frankness, count, how shall
Moscow be delivered, with blood, or without blood (s kroviou ili bez
"Bez krovi (without blood)," laconically answered the count.
His word to prince Eugene had been: Burn the capital rather than deliver it
to the enemy; to Ermilof: I do not see why you take so much pains to defend
Moscow at any price; if the enemy occupies the city he will find nothing
that could serve him.
The treasures which belong to the crown and all that is of some value have
already been removed; also, with few exceptions, the treasures of the
churches, the ornaments of gold and silver, the most important archives of
the state, all have been taken to a place of safety. Many of the well-to-do
have already taken away what is precious. There remain in Moscow only 50
thousand persons in the most miserable conditions who have no other asylum.
This was what he said on September 13, and on the same day he wrote to the
emperor that all had been sent away.
But this was not true; there still remained 10 thousand wounded--of whom
the majority would perish in case of a conflagration; there remained an
immense stock of provisions, flour and alcoholic liquor, which would fall
into the hands of the enemy; there was still the arsenal in the Kremlin
containing 150 cannon, 60 thousand rifles, 160 thousand cartridges and a
great deal of sulphur and saltpeter.
During the night from the 14th. to the 15th. Rostopchine developed a great
activity, though he could save only some miraculous images left in the
churches, and destroy some magazines.
The inhabitants suddenly aroused from their security went to the barriers
of the city and obstructed the streets with vehicles; to remove what still
remained in Moscow the means of transportation and the time allowed for
this purpose were insufficient.
Those who remained had nothing to lose and were glad to take revenge on the
rich by burning and pillaging their mansions.
On the 14th. the criminals in the prisons, with one-half of their heads
shaved, were set at liberty that they might participate in the burning and
Before leaving Moscow Rostopchine uncovered his head and said to his son,
"Salute Moscow for the last time; in half an hour it will be on fire."
Quite a literature has developed on the question: who has burned Moscow?
The documents which Popof has examined leave no doubt concerning
Rostopchine's part in regard to its conflagration. But, after all, it was
caused by those who had a right to do it, those who, beginning at
Smolensk, burned their villages, their hamlets, even their ripening or
ripened harvest, after the Russian army had passed and the enemy came in
sight. Who? The Russian people of all classes, of all conditions without
exception, men even invested with public power, and among them Rostopchine.
RETREAT FROM MOSCOW
During the night from October 18th. to October 19th., all soldiers were
busy loading vehicles with provisions and baggage. On October 19th., the
first day of the retreat, forever memorable on account of the misfortune
and heroism which characterized it, the grand army presented a strange
spectacle. The soldiers were in a fair condition, the horses lean and
exhausted. But, above all, the masses following the army were
extraordinary. After an immense train of artillery of 600 cannon, with all
its supplies, came a train of baggage the like of which had never been seen
since the centuries of migration when whole barbarous nations went in
search of new territories for settlement.
The fear that they might run short of rations had caused every regiment,
every battalion, to carry on country wagons all they had been able to
procure of bread and flour; but these wagons carrying provisions were not
the heaviest loaded, not loaded as much as those which were packed with
booty from the conflagration of Moscow; in addition, many soldiers
overtaxing their strength and endurance had filled their knapsacks with
provisions and booty. Most officers had secured light Russian country
wagons to carry provisions and warm clothing. The French, Italian,
and German families, who lived in Moscow and now feared the returning
Russians when again entering their capital, had asked to accompany the
retreating army and formed a kind of a colony among the soldiers; with
these families were also theatrical people and unfortunate women who had
lived in Moscow on prostitution.
The almost endless number, the peculiarity of vehicles of all description,
drawn by miserable horses, loaded with sacks of flour, clothing and
furniture, with sick women and children, constituted a great danger, for
the question was, how could the army maneuvre with such an impediment and,
above all, defend itself against the Cossacks?
Napoleon, surprised and almost alarmed, thought at first to establish
order, but, after some reflection, came to the conclusion that the
accidents of the road would soon reduce the quantity of this baggage, that
it would be useless to be severe with the poor creatures, that, after all,
the wagons would serve to transport the wounded. He consented therefore to
let all go along the best they could, he only gave orders that the column
of these people with their baggage should keep at a distance from the
column of the soldiers in order that the army would be able to maneuvre.
On October 24th. was the battle of Jaroslawetz in which the Russians,
numbering 24 thousand, fought furiously against 10 thousand or 11 thousand
French, to cut off the latter from Kalouga, and the French, on their part,
fought with despair.
The center of the battle was the burning city taken and retaken seven
times; many of the wounded perished in the flames, their cadavers
incinerated, and 10 thousand dead covered the battlefield.
Many of the wounded, who could not be transported had to be left to their
fate at the theater of their glorious devotion, to the great sorrow of
everybody, and many who had been taken along on the march during the first
days after the battle had also to be abandoned for want of means of
transportation. The road was already covered with wagons for which there
were no horses.
The cries of the wounded left on the road were heartrending, in vain did
they implore their comrades not to let them die on the way, deprived of all
aid, at the mercy of the Cossacks.
The artillery was rapidly declining on account of the exhausted condition
of the horses. Notwithstanding all cursing and whipping, the jaded animals
were not able to drag the heavy pieces. Cavalry horses were taken to
overcome the difficulty and this caused a reduction of the strength of the
cavalry regiments without being of much service to the artillery. The
riders parted with their horses, they had tears in their eyes looking for
the last time on their animals, but they did not utter a word.
Cavalrymen, with admirable perseverance and superhuman efforts, dragged the
cannon as far as Krasnoe. All men had dismounted and aided the exhausted
animals only two of which were attached to each piece.
Notwithstanding all the misery of a three-days-march to Moshaisk all were
hopeful. The distance from Moshaisk to Smolensk was covered in seven or
eight days; the weather, although cold during the night, was good during
the day, and the soldiers gladly anticipated to find, after some more
hardship, rest, abundance, and warm winter quarters in Smolensk.
On the march the army camped on the battlefield of Borodino when they saw
50 thousand cadavers lying still unburied, broken wagons, demolished
cannons, helmets, cuirasses, guns spread all over--a horrid sight! Wherever
the victims had fallen in large numbers one could see clouds of birds of
prey rending the air with their sinister cries. The reflections which this
sight excited were profoundly painful. How many victims, and what result!
The army had marched from Wilna to Witebsk, from Witebsk to Smolensk,
hoping for a decisive battle, seeking this battle at Wiasma, then at Ghjat,
and had found it at last at Borodino, a bloody, terrible battle. The army
had marched to Moscow in order to earn the fruit of all that sacrifice, and
at this place nothing had been found but an immense conflagration. The army
returned without magazines, reduced to a comparatively small number, with
the prospect of a severe winter in Poland, and with a far away prospect of