Napoleon’s Campaign in Russia Anno 1812 by Achilles Rose

Produced by David Starner, John P. Hadley, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. NAPOLEON’S CAMPAIGN IN RUSSIA ANNO 1812 MEDICO-HISTORICAL BY DR. A. ROSE PREFACE 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
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Produced by David Starner, John P. Hadley, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.


ANNO 1812





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, Anno 1812.

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 them.

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 such.

And all this has to be considered in a medical history of the campaign Anno 1812.

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 other.

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”

In Prison


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 departments.

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 friend Alexander.”

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’ hunting party.

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 table.

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 against Russia.

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 courtesy.

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 assumption.”

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 Prussia.”

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 Alexander.

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 glory.

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 thousand horses.

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 gradually.

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 activity.

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 activity.

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 medicine.

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 thousand men.

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 Niemen.

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 without stint.

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 couches.

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 horror.

We shall return to von Scherer’s dissertation when describing the retreat from Moscow.

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 1812.

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 the future.

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 marauders.

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.


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 earlier chapter.

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 even straw.

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 favorable imaginable.

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 Moscow.

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 road.

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 his soldiers:

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.


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 perish.

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 their masters.

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 shoes.

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 of God.

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 harangue.

“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 once.

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 complaints.

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 respectfulness.

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 the truth!”

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 this matter.

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 eyes.

“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 krovi)?”

“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 pillaging.

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.


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