Chapter 17

The central sector in October and November

‘I’ve had my fill of heroics! We’ve done far too much already for glory. The time has
now come for us to turn our thoughts to saving the remains of the army.’

‘Come on then, come on dandies of Paris!’

This was to be the scene of the notorious ‘Retreat from Moscow’ in all its misery and pathos.

This regiment, the 3rd Lithuanian Lancers of the Imperial Guard, was only formed on 5 July 1812, but it was not until early October that two squadrons were complete. Count Konopka was leading his regiment to join the Grande Armée, but decided to stop off in Slonim, his family home. He put out no sentries, a most lax attitude to the business of war.

The Ambush at Slonim, 20 October. A small town in the southern-central sector, 190 km north east of Brest-Litowsk. A victory for the Russians (General Tchaplitz and the Pavlograd Hussars) over the 3rd Lithuanian Lancers of the Imperial Guard under Major-Colonel Count Jean Konopka.

General Tschaplitz’s 18th Division, of A.P. Tormassow’s 3rd Army of the West, discovered them and attacked. Konopka, 13 officers and 235 NCOs and men were captured. The rump of the regiment, some 500 men, formed in Grodno under command of Colonel Tanski. On 12 March 1813 they were incorporated into the 1st Light Horse Lancers of the Guard.

Meanwhile, out to the west of Moscow, Denis Davidov’s partisans were operating north of the old Smolensk road between Wiasma and Gzhatz; on 11 October they came up with a convoy of seventy enemy wagons and its escort. They attacked it and took all the vehicles and 225 men as well as sixty-eight Russian prisoners.

Seslawin was another daring Russian partisan leader of 1812. After Napoleon had left Moscow, his army approached the crossing of the River Lusha at Malojaroslawetz. Seslawin crept through the woods at the roadside and managed to kidnap a second lieutenant of the Imperial Guard. He rode with him to General Alexei Petrovich Yermelov at Aristow, not far away. General Dorokhow’s division was also here. Seslawin’s prisoner corroborated his evidence of the position of the Grande Armée and this vital information was sent on to Kutuzov, precipitating the famous battle at that river crossing. The locals in Malojaroslawetz had demolished the bridge before Eugene’s IV Corps arrived and this delay made the clash even more certain.

The battle of Malojaroslawetz, 24 October. A town in the central sector, on the River Luscha, 103 km south west of Moscow. Although Russian losses exceeded those of the French, the latter’s attempt to return to the west by a more southerly route was stopped here. Prince Eugene commanded the I and IV Corps; Dokturov commanded the VI Russian Corps.

General Delzon’s 13th Division, IV Corps arrived at Malojaroslawetz at six o’clock on the evening of 23 October and began to repair the bridge. The town was unoccupied at this point, so Delzons put two battalions into it, but kept the rest of his division north of the Lusha River.

When the news reached him that the French were falling back, Kutuzov guessed that they were making for Kaluga, about 150 km south west of Moscow, and at once set his forces in motion to catch them.

Dokturov’s VI Corps arrived at Malojaroslawetz from Cziurikowa at five o’clock on the morning of 24 October and at once attacked the town. Soon all of Delzons’s 13th Division was in the place, as Kutuzov deployed his army in a crescent south of the town. Delzons’s men were forced to abandon the town, but then the rest of the IV Corps came up and retook it. Malojaroslawetz changed hands several times; Delzons was killed and replaced by General Guilleminot; at the height of the combat all of Eugene’s infantry was in the town.

The day was drawing to a close when Davout came up with his I Corps, crossed the river and deployed to the right of the town. The firing went on until nine o’clock that night. Kutuzov pulled his army back south along the Kaluga road. The allies had won a tactical victory, but it was clear to Napoleon that he would not be allowed to advance further south. Thus ended Napoleon’s hopes of pushing down south into the fruitful, unspoiled Ukraine; he turned back to the north west. Losses this day were about 6,000 allies to 8,000 Russians.

According to Segur, the Emperor now burst out with: ‘I’ve had my fill of heroics! We’ve done far too much already for glory. The time has now come for us to turn our thoughts to saving the remains of the army.’ Well, better late than never - or was it?

Early on the morning of 25 October, crowds of Cossacks appeared in the woods along the sides of the road along which the Grande Armée was retreating. One of their officers rode up close enough to the lancers of the guard to shout, in fluent French: ‘Come on then, come on dandies of Paris!’ The immediate response was that he was driven off by fifty Polish Lancers of the Guard. Later, at the hamlet of Uverofskoie, General Colbert sent Captain Schneither of the Dutch Lancers of the Guard, with forty-eight men, out ahead of the column as advanced guard. Some hours later, about 450 Cossacks charged and surrounded the squadron. General Colbert at once sent the 2nd Squadron of the Dutch Lancers, under Colonel-Major Dubois, to save them. They managed to reach their comrades, but were then themselves surrounded. Colbert had to lead the other two squadrons of the regiment to drive the Cossacks off. But the four-hour action had cost them dear; twenty-eight men killed and wounded and thirty horses.

According to Segur, Mortier returned to Napoleon one afternoon and brought the captured General Baron Ferdinand Wintzingerode, ADC to the Czar, with him. At the sight of this German officer, Napoleon’s hidden suffering came alive. His dejection turned to anger, and he vented on his enemy all the grief that had been oppressing him:

Who are you? A man without a country! You have always been my personal enemy. When I was waging war against the Austrians, I found you in their ranks. Austria became my ally and you offered your services to Russia. You have become one of the most ardent abettors of the present war; yet you were born in one of the states of the Confederation of the Rhine, which makes you my subject. You are not an ordinary enemy - you are a rebel! As such, I have the right to have you tried! Guards, lay hold of this man!


The Russians reoccupy the Kremlin on 19 October. An engraving by I. Ivanov. Author’s collection.


General Baron Ferdinand von Wintzingerode, who was the subject of Napoleon’s wrath in the Kremlin. He survived that interview and was defeated at St Dizier by the Emperor on 26 March 1814. Author’s collection.

The guards did not move, behaving like men accustomed to seeing such violent scenes come to nothing, and sure that they were obeying better by disobeying. Napoleon went on:

Do you see the devastated countryside, sir? The villages in flames? Whom are we to blame for these disasters? Why, fifty adventurers like yourself, in the pay of England and turned loose on the continent by her. But the burden of this war will fall on those who instigated it. In six months I shall be in St Petersburg, and I shall get satisfaction for all this strutting and boasting!

Strutting and boasting? Napoleon could have taken out patents on both concepts.

Segur now tells us that:

At Borodino, on 30th October 1812, a few miles beyond Mozhaisk, we had to cross the Kolotcha, which at this point was little more than a broad stream... the rough bridge broke. The Emperor, stopped by so insignificant an obstacle as a broken bridge, did no more than make a gesture of discontent and scorn, to which Berthier replied by an air of resignation. As the details of this particular movement had not been dictated by the Emperor, he did not believe himself guilty; for Berthier was a faithful echo, a mirror, and nothing more. Always standing by, day or night, he reflected the Emperor’s image, and repeating clearly and precisely exactly what he ordered, but added nothing, so that what Napoleon forgot was for ever hopelessly forgotten.

In the evening of that long day, as the imperial column was approaching Gzhatsk, we were surprised to find a number of dead Russians, still warm, on the road in front of us. We noticed that their heads had all been shattered in the same manner and that their brains were scattered about. We knew that 2,000 Russian prisoners had gone before us, under the escort of Spanish, Portuguese and Polish troops. Some of our generals greeted this with indifference, others with indignation, others with approval.

In the Emperor’s presence no one expressed an opinion. Caulaincourt could no longer contain himself and burst out:

It’s an atrocity! This then, is the civilisation we are bringing to Russia! What effect will such inhumanity have on our enemies? Aren’t we leaving our wounded in their care, as well as thousands of prisoners? Will they lack provocation for horrible reprisals?

Napoleon maintained a gloomy silence.

There are several eye-witness accounts of this or similar incidents; in each case, the reporter attributes the murders to some nationality other than his own.

So, the dwindling force, which Napoleon led, joined up with their original entry route at the battlefield of Borodino on 30 October. Captain Morgenstern, with the 2nd Westfalian Infantry Regiment of the VIII Corps, has left us a vivid picture of the nature of the retreat even in these early stages. We will follow him along parts of his desperate trek westwards; his account may be taken as being typical for thousands who were now fighting for their survival.

We bivouaced near the monastry of Kolotskoi. Despite the fact that the evacuation of the hospital here had been ordered well in advance, little had actually happened due to the lack of transport. We saw the pitiful fear of those helpless sick and wounded as they watched the convoy passing them by, to leave them to the mercies of the vengeful Russians. We felt the bitterness of those seriously ill who now gave up all hope of being moved from their pestilential cells. The possibility that poor Maibom [a companion of Morgenstern’s wounded at Borodino - DGS] might still be alive, drove me to enter the place. Chaotic disorder met me at every turn; there were no staff left to answer my questions! I had exposed myself to all those horrors for nothing.

The Emperor ordered that every vehicle in the endless convoy that streamed past the place should take as many sick and wounded with them as they could. The order extended to the sutlers’ carts, to all the vehicles laden with the spoils of the city and even to the coaches of the generals themselves. Any contravention was to be reported to the Provost Marshal who was authorised to confiscate all vehicles of the offending persons. In spite of this, the order had but little effect. The unwelcome guests were grudgingly taken on board but within a few days many such wagons vanished from the convoy; despite the perils from the ever-present Cossacks, the owners took the risk of slipping off for a day to dump their helpless loads in the forest at the first opportunity.

General Wittgenstein’s two corps from the northern flank, having broken through Saint-Cyr’s blocking force at Polotzk, now fell into the main scene of the retreat.

The clash at Tschaschniki, 31 October. A village in the central (but Polotzk) sector, 70 km south west of Witebsk, on the River Ula. A Russian victory for General Prince Jaschwil’s advanced guard of Wittgenstein’s I Corps over Marshal Victor’s IX Corps, hurrying eastwards to support Napoleon.

Victor had 18,000 men, the Russians only some 11,000. The combat was limited to an artillery duel; the IX Corps withdrew at nightfall. General Wittgenstein’s I Corps had now advanced some 60 km south from Polotzk on the northern flank and was aiming to cooperate with Kutuzov in crushing the remnants of the Grande Armée as they hurried westwards. Victor’s IX Corps lost over 1,200 men, the Russians lost 400. Victor now assumed command of Legrand’s II Corps.

On 21 October, at midnight, Denis Davidov’s partisans were north of the old Smolensk road; as they neared the village of Rybkov at dawn, they discovered the Grande Armée: chaos! Carriages, carts, coaches, guns, horsemen and foot soldiers, officers, support personnel and all kinds of riff-raff – they were streaming through in droves. If we had been ten times stronger, we wouldn’t have been able to capture even one tenth of what choked the road.

As there was no point in a direct attack on this huge mass, Davidov ordered his men to charge alongside the fugitives, yelling, screaming and hacking at whatever they could. They set to work with a will, spreading terror in the fugitives. This mayhem went on until the Imperial Guard appeared on the scene, with Napoleon in its midst, and serious resistance forced the Cossacks to pull back. They kept carrying out hit and run raids on the column all day and took two officers and 180 men.

The clash at Wiasma, 3 November. A town in the central sector, on the River Dniepr, 150 km north east of Smolensk. A victory for the Russian General Miloradovich (II and IV Corps and II and IV Cavalry Corps) over Prince Eugene (I, II, III, IV, V and IX Corps, I and III Cavalry Corps).

Even at this point, many regiments of the Grande Armée (now down to 25,000 armed men) had ceased to exist as tactical units. This was particularly true of the cavalry. Napoleon lost 4,000 killed and wounded and 3,000 captured as well as three guns and two standards of the Italian Guard Dragoons. The Russians had 24,500 men; their losses were 1,800.

Morgenstern, of the Westphalian infantry, continues with his telling account:

The bonds of discipline fell apart within the first few days of the retreat; a dreadful omen of what was to come. We marched through Gschatsk, where we picked up our 3rd Battalion and on to Wiasma. In Griednowo our 8th Infantry Regiment met us and on 3rd November we reached Dorogobusch, where we were granted a rest day.

On 23 October, Davidov’s partisans crossed the Osma stream and probed towards Slavko, where they ran into the Old Guard again. It was a repeat of the previous day and yielded three officers, 146 men and seven wagonloads of assorted loot.

Captain Morgenstern’s account of the drastic effects of the first snowfall are of interest.

On the 5th of November we left Dorogobusch. That same evening, we had a heavy snowfall; the snow fell in such large and dense flakes that even the nearest objects were unrecognizable. The wind raged and whipped the snow into deep drifts, covering ditches and streams into which the exhausted, heavily-laden soldiers collapsed. Anyone who managed to climb out of one of these deathtraps could count himself lucky. The icy blizzard whipped into our faces, blinding us. The snow balled up under our feet and found its way through every layer of clothing to melt on the skin so that we were soaked through and frozen. The muskets slipped from our frozen hands; winter was disarming and destroying us much more effectively and quickly than the enemy ever could!


Wiasma, 3 November. Another rearguard action as the Grande Armée disintegrated on its way westwards. Napoleon, with 25,000 men, lost 7,000 men and three guns. The Russians lost 1,800 casualties. This map is after Bogdanovich.

On 5 and 6 November, Napoleon’s headquarters was in Dorogobusch. The Cossack partisan groups of Davidov, Platov, Seslawin, Orlov-Denisov, Figner and the militia forces of Prince Jaschwil Shepelev and Count Ozharovsky hovered around them. Figner was a sadistic fellow and had a habit of ‘blooding’ new recruits by letting them shoot unarmed prisoners. The total of his kill lay somewhere between 300 and 400 men. According to Segur, the first snow fell on 6 November. Segur relates how the effects of dwindling transport capacity were biting into the remnants of the once-great army:

From Gzhatsk to Mikalewska, a village between Dorogobusch and Smolensk, nothing worthy of note happened... except that we were forced to throw all our spoils from Moscow into Lake Semlevo. The cannon, Gothic armour, works of art from the Kremlin and the cross of Ivan the Great were sunk beneath the waters of the lake. Trophies, glory, all those things for which we had sacrificed so much, had become a burden. There was no longer any question of adorning or embellishing our lives, but merely of saving them.

Segur also tells us of the day on which they reached Smolensk:

At length the army came within sight of Smolensk again... Here was the end of their suffering, here was the land of promise, where famine would be changed to abundance, and weariness would find rest. In well-heated houses they would forget the bivouacs in sub-zero cold. Here they would enjoy refreshing sleep, and mend their clothes, here shoes and uniforms, adapted to the Russian climate, would be distributed among them.

According to Segur, the rate of attrition between Moscow and Smolensk had been dramatic:

The army left Moscow 100,000 strong; in twenty-five days it had been reduced to 36,000 men. At the sight of the city [Smolensk] only the corps d’elite, reduced to a few soldiers and the required officers, kept their ranks. All the others dashed madly ahead. Thousands of men, mostly unarmed, covered the steep banks of the Dniepr, crowding together in a black mass against the high walls and gates of the city. But the unruly mob, their haggard faces blackened with dirt and smoke, their tattered uniforms or the grotesque costumes that were doing the duty of uniforms - in short, their frenzied impatience and hideous appearance frightened those inside. They believed that if they did not check this multitude of hunger-maddened men, the entire city would be given over to lawless plunder. Therefore, the gates were closed against them. It was also hoped that by such rigorous treatment these men would be forced to rally. Then, in this poor remnant of our unfortunate army, a horrible conflict between order and disorder took place. In vain did the men pray, weep, implore, threaten, try to batter down the gates, or drop dying at the feet of their comrades who had been ordered to drive them back; they found them inexorable. They were forced to await the arrival of the first troops still officered and in order. These were the Young and the Old Guard; the disbanded men were allowed to follow them in. They believed that their entrance had been delayed in order to provide better quarters and more provisions for these picked troops. Their suffering made them unfair, and they cursed the Guard, asking themselves, ‘Are we to be forever sacrificed for this privileged class, for this useless ornament never seen in the front rank except at reviews and festivities, or at the distribution of awards? Is the army never to get anything but their leavings? Must we wait for ever to be fed until these favourites are satiated?... Finally, all the unfortunate creatures were in Smolensk – Smolensk, city of their dreams! They left the river banks strewn with the half-dead bodies of the weak, who had succumbed to impatience and the long hours of waiting. They left still others on the icy slope they had to climb to reach the upper part of the town. The survivors rushed to the regimental storehouses, where many more died outside the doors, for they were repulsed again. ‘Who were they? To what corps did they belong? How could they prove it?’ The quartermasters were responsible for the rations. They were not to deliver supplies except to authorised officers bringing receipts for which they exchanged a stipulated number of rations. But these disbanded men around the doors had no officers, nor could they tell where their regiments were. Fully two-thirds of the army were in this predicament... No winter quarters had been prepared, no wood provided. The sick and wounded were left out in the streets in the carts that had brought them in. Once again the deadly high road was passing through an empty name! Here was one more bivouac among deceptive ruins, colder even than the forests the men had just left.

For some regiments there were bright spots in the gloom. The 2nd Dutch Lancers of the Guard numbered 330 men with only 130 horses when they entered the city; there they were joined by the 130 men of the 5th Squadron, coming forward from the depot.

Having been on outpost duty outside Smolensk for two days prior to the arrival of the fugitives from Moscow, Westphalian Captain Morgenstern, his sergeant and three men tried to go back into the city to draw more rations from the magazines there. By now, the survivors were beginning to reach the town; at the prospect of food, the starving hordes lost all control and discipline and stormed the place. Morgenstern described the scene as follows.

The only thing to do in this chaos was to help ourselves. The conditions were far worse than any of the rumours that we had heard. We five, still fairly strong men, clung together in the maelstrom of men, horses and vehicles which was trying to squeeze through the narrow gateway into the city. We let ourselves be carried forward in the crush over the remains of wrecked vehicles, harness, discarded equipment, dead horses and even human corpses. At the gate itself however, any further progress was impossible. Formed bodies of armed troops cut their way into or out of the city with bayonet and butt; mounted men spurred their horses directly into the throng, regardless of whom or how many they trampled underfoot. By use of all our strength, we managed to extricate ourselves from this dangerous press to one side at the cost of some bruising and ripped clothing. Bitterly disappointed, we scanned the high city wall which separated us from the mountains of supplies inside. We then saw a spot where the walls had been badly damaged. With great exertion, we scaled the minor breach with the help of the ropes that we had brought with us to tie up the bundles of supplies that we hoped to get. Once inside, we managed to locate a minor food store where the crush was not so great. Here we managed to bully one of the commissaries into issuing us with a sack of flour, a bag of much longed-for salt and some large pieces of salted meat. In another store, which seemed already to have been looted, we fought our way into possession of several pairs of shoes. We left Smolensk over the damaged wall again and made our way back to camp where we all enjoyed the spoils of our perilous exploit.

Major von Lossberg was also in the city; he recorded a brighter side to the grim events that were played there:

I cannot leave Smolensk without mentioning the ‘annual market’, which was set up in the great square in front of the magazine from which I drew rations. Hundreds of soldiers (mostly of the Imperial Guard) traded here in the booty, which they had gathered, mostly in Moscow.

This consisted mainly of articles of clothing, women’s dresses and shawls of all types, but there were also many items of church jewellery. An NCO in green uniform, from his appearance and French accent an Italian, offered me such a piece of church treasure for two thousand francs and assured me that it was worth ten times that. He went into great detail on each of the precious stones it had and seemed to be an expert in this field.

The clash at Witebsk, 7 November. A town on the River Dwina, in the northern central sector, about 130 km north west of Smolensk. The Russians under General Harpe (part of Wittgenstein’s I Corps) captured the French garrison. Exact details of the garrison are unknown; some 2,000 were captured for a Russian loss of forty killed and wounded. It was here that General Harpe heard the news of the abandonment of Moscow and passed it on the Wittgenstein. On 8 November Prince Eugene wrote of his IV Corps:

Three days of suffering have so dispirited the men that at this moment I believe them incapable of any serious effort. Numbers have died of hunger or cold, and many more in their despair have permitted themselves to be taken by the enemy.

The clash at Liakhovo, 9 November. A village in the central sector, 40 km south east of Smolensk. A Russian victory over General Augereau’s brigade. The Russian partisan leader, Denis Davidov, had learned that General Jean-Pierre Augereau1 and some 2,000 men of the 1st Division, I Corps were in Liakhovo; he informed Orlov-Denisov and suggested a combined raid. During the fight, news came that another French force of about 2,000 men was coming from the east behind them. There was a brief skirmish and the French force of one general, sixty officers and 2,000 men surrendered. From 2 September to 23 October Davidov’s partisans had captured forty-three officers and over 3,500 of the enemy.

The clash at Axensi, 13 November. A village in the central sector, 40 km east of Tschaschniki and 60 km south west of Witebsk, in Belarus. A Franco-German victory over the Russians. This was General Partouneaux’s 6,000 strong 12th Division of Victor’s fast-vanishing IX Corps, advancing eastwards to aid Napoleon and the survivors to escape. They were opposed by Wittgenstein’s advanced guard of 10,500 under General Alexejev. Losses were about even at 500 on each side.

The clash at Mir, 13 November. In the central sector. A town between Brest and Minsk. A successful Russian raid (General Orurk’s advanced guard of 1,300 men the Army of the Danube) which captured the French garrison. The entire French garrison of 500 men was captured by General Count Lambert’s force, which lost forty-three men.

The clash at Smoljaentzi, 14 November. A village in the central sector, 70 km south west of Witebsk. A victory of Wittgenstein’s I Corps over Marshal Victor’s IX Corps. Victor, with some 5,000 men, was badly beaten and lost 3,000 men. The Russians, with 30,500 men, lost about the same, but they could afford it. Victor withdrew south to Tschereja and stayed there until 22 November. Wittgenstein did not follow.

Westphalian Captain von Morgenstern gives us a picture of his division in Smolensk at this point:

Next day, our pitifully weak division led the army’s retreat. Our halt in Smolensk meant that the pursuing Russians were now very close behind us. Junot and von Ochs decided to regroup the [24th] division into three weak battalions and a ‘squadron’ of about 40 horses to which many mounted officers of all ranks attached themselves. This reorganization took place at the village of Korytina. General von Ochs commanded the troops; Junot was not to be seen outside his coach.

The scales had fallen from Phillipe de Segur’s eyes:

So great expeditions are crushed by their own weight. Human limits had been exceeded. Napoleon’s genius, seeking to transcend time, climate, and distance, had, as it were, got lost in space. Great as his capacities were, he had gone beyond them. He had no illusions concerning this destitution. Alexander alone had deceived him. Accustomed to overcoming everything by the terror of his name, and the admiration inspired by his daring, his army, himself, and his fortune, he had staked everything on Alexander’s first move. He was still the same man as in Egypt, at Marengo, Ulm or Esslingen. He was Hernando Cortez; he was the Macedonian burning his ships and in spite of his soldiers striking out into an unknown Asia; he was Caesar entrusting his whole fortune to a fragile bark.

It was on 14 November, according to Segur:

...that the Grande Armée began to leave Smolensk. Many disheartened men, some women, and several thousand of our sick and wounded were left behind. The Old Guard and the Young Guard together could muster no more than nine or ten thousand infantrymen and two thousand troopers. Davout and the I Corps had five or six thousand; Prince Eugene and the army of Italy, five thousand; Poniatowski, 800; Junot and his Westphalians 700, and Latour-Maubourg with the remains of the cavalry 1,500. There might also be added to these about one thousand light-horse and 500 dismounted cavalry that we had succeeded in getting together. This army had numbered 100,000 combatants on leaving Moscow. In twenty-five days it had been reduced to 36,000!

The Division Princière was composed of the regiments of Frankfurt, Würzburg, the Ducal Saxons, and the Thuringian states of the Confederation of the Rhine. They were in Marshal Augereau’s XI Corps, which only entered Lithuania in mid-November. On the 14th of that month, they numbered 14,000 men; by 10 December they had dwindled away to just 1,500 men with the colours. This climbed back to 2,000 by the 25th.

The accounts of conditions even in Lithuania, in mid-November, are related by Bernays, who covered the progress of the Frankfurt Regiment:

The cold, made much worse by a strong north east wind, was almost unbearable. In addition, in the absence of any snow cover, it whipped up great clouds of dust, as high as church towers, which threatened to choke the marchers.

Captain von Soden of the regiment wrote:

Past Tilsit the quarters got progressively worse. We kept meeting isolated French officers who told us that they were going to Spain, like the others (we had met in the previous days).

In Kowno there were thousands of wounded in terrible conditions. The hospitals in which these unfortunates lay were just there to hasten their passing. Long lines of carts, filled with frozen corpses, took the road to the nearby River Niemen. Holes were hacked in the ice and the bodies thrown in to find cold, watery graves.

At this time several troops of lightly wounded French soldiers arrived in Kowno; many of them seemed to have inflicted their wounds themselves, as they were wounded in the left hand. They were commanded by an officer of the 92e2 who told us of the evacuation of Moscow, but not much else.

A far worse sight were the ‘Isolierte’, as they termed the men who had left their units, who appeared staggering towards us in the snowstorm. Silently, with staring eyes, they stumbled past us, looking like ghosts. Some of them were amputees, who had fashioned themselves crutches and false legs so that they could escape from this chamber of horrors. Along the road lay masses of dead horses, half buried in snow and little mounds covered by shrouds of snow.

But what a wonderful thing ‘timing’ is. Having read the countless harrowing stories of the unfortunates who trudged back from Moscow when that city was evacuated on 19 October, let us look briefly at the almost incredibly different story that is to be found in Albrecht Adam’s autobiography. Adam was one of the two famous artists that survived the Russian campaign. He left Moscow about four weeks before the Grande Armée, but it may as well have been four months or four years judging from the very different journey that he had. On 25 September he revisited the battlefield of Borodino:

Despite this, I stopped my wagon for a time and took a walk over what seemed to me to be an interesting part of the battlefield, but I saw so much that was hideous and shocking, and found the air so polluted, that I soon turned round.

Most of the corpses of men and horses had been left unburied and it was a horrific picture, if I am to give you a true account of the field 18 days after the battle. The most touching scene was that of seven men, who had crawled together next to a dead horse. Five of them were out of their misery; death had ended their martyrdom; but two were still alive and could speak and move a little. I couldn’t take them with me, nor could I get them help. I confess, that for a moment, I had the idea that I should put them out of their misery. Horror-struck, I ran from this scene of hell. Breathing heavily, I said to myself: ‘Yes, war is the most terrible thing!’ Those unfortunates were Russians, who had lain helplessly on the ground for 18 days in such a state.

Whenever I told this tale, I was asked what had kept those men alive for so long. I cannot answer this question, as I did not speak their language and they were not in any condition to talk much, but I think that they must have been eating the horse by which they lay.

The battlefield of Borodino is of very gloomy formation, but now it appeared to be a hideous desert. I met no one for hours; it seemed that no one wanted to be here; they all passed by as quickly as possible. This impression that everything made on us was heightened by the melancholy weather. My vet was pleased when I returned; he had no wish to walk around the battlefield and was sitting impatiently in the wagon.

I was deeply depressed and we went silently on our way along the devastated road, which everywhere showed the traces of the fighting. Later we came upon an abbey, which gave us hope that we might find quarters there, but we found it was a field hospital, which gave us another horror show and urged us on our way.

Towards evening a large barn offered passable quarters for us and the horses for the night. We made tea, without sugar or milk, as we had neither, and we ate the rest of the mutton. But the terrible things that I had seen that day kept filling my dreams with awful fantasies.

Next day brought us a terrible storm; we trudged on amid wind, rain and snow showers through the 29th on the muddy road. It was the sixth day of our continuous journey. Due to the poor diet and the bad road, our horses began to show fatigue. The prevailing westerly wind caused us great discomfort. Strange to say, the days were very stormy, but the nights were mostly calm and fine.

That afternoon we met some travelling companions; Jewish salesmen from Glogau. Business-like as they were, they had followed the army to Moscow to find trade and seemed to be returning in a quite happy state. They looked well and in good spirits, three fairly young men-of-the-world who knew how to conduct themselves; from their dress and appearance, they were not - at first sight - members of the Jewish class. They had studied and - although not perfect - were well on the way to becoming part of the intelligentsia.

Their transport consisted of a canvas covered wagon pulled by four good horses. They seemed very keen to attach themselves to me; I was not overjoyed at this, for I like to travel alone on principle; but I could not stop them.

The hope that we might find reasonable quarters in the town of Wiasma was soon dashed; it was so bad that we could scarcely wait until morning to have this place behind us; a spot, in which we had been a month before, in fine autumnal weather, full of high hopes of success.

We moved off in better weather and got to know our new travelling companions better. They seemed to appreciate travelling with an officer from the retinue of the Viceroy and paid me a certain respect.

I also wanted to convince myself – in the modesty with which I undertook everything - that they would help bring some more courage and hope into our journey. They had some coffee and sugar and offered to sell some to us quite cheaply.

At midday we made a lucky find of forage in a village; that was a great gift; we fed the poor horses, which ate with gusto, and took a goodly supply with us. Towards evening we spotted a small village on a hill and made for it. At least the horses were out of the wind and rain and had a good supper.

Here we found several poor French soldiers, sick and helpless, who had sought shelter in the huts. Two of these sidled up to our fire like ghosts and asked to be allowed to warm themselves a little. They looked awful and I felt very sorry for them; I gave them some hot soup, which they took with shaking hands and gulped down greedily. Then they curled up under my wagon and seemed to go to sleep; I didn’t want to disturb them and let them lie. Next morning one of them was dead and the other dying.

On the next day, 1 October, Adam learned of rumours that Cossacks were raiding the road. His Israelite travelling companions took fright at this news, and began to drive faster, which Adam was unwilling to do because of his horses and his much heavier wagon. However, good fortune smiled on Adam when he met a group of French soldiers with three horses on their wagon: he haggled for some time before managing to secure a fine horse that was immediately harnessed up. His account continues:

Now we had four horses and made better speed; towards evening we reached the town of Semlewo. Here things looked really bad. The entrances were blocked with palisades and all sorts of obstructions and we had difficulty getting them to let us in. The small garrison were scared of being raided and were surprised to hear that we had come from Moscow. We found some miserable lodgings; we were almost always in such a state in the towns. At least, in the country we had fresh air; in the towns the atmosphere was poisonous.

As we reached Semlewo early, I went to garrison headquarters and found some good types there. They were most interested to hear from me all about the conditions in Moscow and of our experiences on the way back. ‘I am really very surprised,’ said the commandant, ‘that you got here so easily, but I have to tell you, that you won’t get to Smolensk; we hear that the Cossacks are stopping everything from twelve hours out from the city, and they’re frequently on our backs here. We have to send out large military parties to find food and forage, for we have nothing here and our situation is miserable.’

‘That’s bad news,’ I answered, ‘but what do you want with me here? You say yourself, that you are short of everything, why do you want to add two more guests to your problems? I do not doubt the truth of that which you have been kind enough to tell me, but since I left Moscow I have heard the same story, and you have to admit, that the same dangers which lie before me, are behind me as well. No-one knows what Napoleon will decide to do and I cannot convince myself that I should stay here in indecision. I am determined to continue my journey to Smolensk.’

There were three French officers here, who had been lightly wounded at Borodino. They were now well enough to travel. They had been hanging around in Semlewo for days already. They listened to our conversation keenly; agreed with me and decided to join me on the journey.

We left Semlewo early in a cold mist and soon met a Chasseur à cheval, who was a sentry on the road. He looked gloomy and frozen and shouted to us in a deep bass voice: ‘You’ll meet Cossacks within a quarter of an hour!’ But he made no effort to stop us. My new companions were visibly shaken. They said that to continue in such mist was dangerous; we should at least wait until it had cleared, as we might bump into the Cossacks before we were aware of them.

I answered that we should not let ourselves be so easily scared. The mist also hid us from the Cossacks; they wouldn’t be directly on the road; that was how I interpreted their operational tactics. Anyway, I had not the slightest intention of talking them into coming along with me; I was not responsible for them and was acting in my own interests; they might do as they pleased, I was going on. That was what I did, and the officers trailed along, someway behind us, as slowly as snails.

We had not gone far, when our situation seemed really to be getting serious. An officer on foot hurried out of a side road to meet us; I slowed up a little. He caught up with us and asked us in French to stop. He was a tall, well-built man, of commanding speech and appearance. After the usual questions; ‘Where have you come from? Where are you bound?’ he began to tell us that he was: ‘the colonel of a Polish infantry regiment, that is on the march here. Yesterday evening, I left the main road to spend the night in a chateau that I know. I found lodgings there and had no suspicions of staying there, as I had a strong military escort with me. But during the night I was woken by gunshots; the Cossacks had attacked in force; my men were captured after a brave fight, and I lost my horse and all my belongings. I escaped in the dark and, as you see, I have nothing else apart from my sword. You will meet my regiment; the Cossacks will let it pass - they always avoid combat with large bodies of infantry. It is a fine regiment and would fight to the last. Tell the officers what has happened to me and tell them to speed up their march; I will await them in Semlewo. If you have the courage to continue on your way, I wish you better luck than I had!’

So they parted company with the officer. His story caused Adam and his fellows to reconsider their plan. About an hour later they met the regiment, which was surprisingly still in good order and well-manned. The officers were disturbed to hear Adam’s tale, and told him that the Cossacks had not dared to attack them, but all trains and wagons that they met were lost and fell into their hands. The escorts had defended themselves; some had been killed and the rest wounded or captured. All the horses following the regiment had also been taken. The Cossacks had taken post in a wood so that it was not possible for infantry to get near them. Adam goes on:

So we parted. This tale certainly caused us to reconsider our plan; we could expect nothing good today. After about an hour, we met the regiment, which to our surprise, was still in good order and very numerous. They took up the whole road, and there were strong patrols to each side. The officers were very disturbed to hear my story, and told me that the Cossacks had not dared to attack them, but all train and wagons that they met were lost and fell into their hands. The escorts had defended themselves, some were killed, the rest wounded or captured. All the horses that had been following their regiment had also been taken. The Cossacks had then taken post in a wood so that it was not possible for infantry to get near them.

This was now too much for the three officers from Semlewo who had dared to come this far. One of them turned to me and said: ‘Now, young man, what do you say to that?’

‘It looks very dangerous, but I am not turning back.’ I replied.

‘Allez,’ he said scornfully, ‘You are an idiot!’

They had a small Russian wagon with three horses with them. As they were now in the middle of the regiment, they could not turn around. They unhitched the horses, swung themselves up on them and rode for Semlewo for all they were worth.

Afterwards, I often thought about these three gentlemen, and whether that were as lucky as I was, to see their homeland again. I doubt it; they were not over-endowed with courage and resolution.

After the regiment had passed, we went slowly and carefully on our way, and in half an hour we came to the site of the Cossack attack. Two dead lay in their blood, and the smoking wreckage of ammunition wagons and other vehicles showed where the fighting had been shortly before. I cannot deny that this scene affected our courage, neither can I conceal our relief that the Cossacks had vanished; we didn’t see them all day long.

Happy that my guardian angel was watching over me, I set my journey forth. I always seemed to come upon these battlegrounds after the crisis had passed. A couple of hours earlier or later and the situation might have been very different.

Without further trouble, we moved on and towards evening we came upon a sizeable inn, off to the side of the road. I would have passed on, but the noise of a mighty row took my ear. I halted, listened, and established that a serious argument was taking place. Soon a well-known voice was heard. It was so loud, that you could have heard it from a quarter of an hour away. I clearly recognized that Swabian accent; I dismounted and went inside. Here I found the baggage of the Crown Prince of Wurttemberg. Some of the light cavalry troopers of the escort had fallen out and were fighting among themselves. At my appearance, the noise gradually abated.

My Jews were there and added their voices to the row. They had been scared by the rumours yesterday and had hurried on and met the Wurttembergers. In the inn I made good friends with a royal horse-breaker, who was with the escort. He was an educated man, with whom I later spent many hours. I travelled on with this escort, which included the servants, some fine riding horses, vehicles and some mounted Jaegers.

However pleasant I found the company - for the Jews had also joined in - I could not help thinking, that it was always the larger convoys that were attacked by the Cossacks, and I was safer if I went on alone and less likely to be noticed.

On the tenth day of our journey the sky lightened up, the air turned mild and we enjoyed one of the best autumn days in the whole of October. There followed days on which one could discard one’s overcoat and not even think of one’s fur. Unhindered, we went on and reached a small village at evening, where we found good lodgings. The next day was the same; we wandered along in a large group without any alarms. With such good weather, we didn’t even try to find a village. We set up camp at the most appropriate spot and sat around the fire, in the best of spirits, eating, drinking and talking until midnight.

On the twelth day of the journey I hit a big snag; the horses’ strength suddenly dropped off and my driver was difficult. We had great difficulty to get on and lost our company, as we could not keep up. We spent the night in a wood. Next day we met the Württembergers again and spent a pleasant evening in a chateau in a pleasant setting, that regaled us with a splendid sight as the sun set. At moments like this, one forgets one’s past troubles and draws new strength.

On the 14th day we had to combat many problems. Our horses were so weak that they could scarcely walk. The harness kept breaking apart and to crown it all, we lost our way, lost our company and reached Smolensk with difficulty only at the evening. Here, we had put the greatest dangers and the worst problems behind us, but great difficulties still lay ahead.

What efforts it had taken us to travel 130 hours distance in 14 days! What distances still lay between us and our beloved fatherland!

In Smolensk Adam found himself in good health despite his arduous journey. He stayed there two days, having his harness repaired as well as possible, and laying in some supplies, although there was not much food to be had. Both men and horses benefited from the rest. Adam noted that Smolensk was pretty full of French soldiers, mostly stragglers and convalescents from the hospitals, and that there was no large garrison. He was not tempted to stay there long, and soon continued his journey:

On 10 October, with well-fed and rested horses, we set off again in beautiful weather and made good progress. I had taken the road to Minsk and aimed to go on via Grodno and Warsaw. That would have been the most direct route, but in Minsk I met new difficulties.

The first two days march from Smolensk to Minsk went very well. On the first night I found good lodgings in a pretty village, but on the second it was very bad. But you don’t really bother about this sort of thing as long as you find some sort of shelter from wind and rain.

On 13 October we came upon two abbeys fairly close together. The first was for monks and looked very inviting from the outside, so we tried to find accommodation there. But right at the gate, a priest appeared and forbade us entry. His whole being radiated holiness, so we moved on. Shortly afterwards we came to a convent; here, no one barred our entry into the walled courtyard; the gate was missing. The main building was shut, so we didn’t bother to disturb the nuns, but took up quarters in one of the outbuildings in the yard. We could at once tell, that we were not the first guests that had been here. It was wrecked and dirty and had neither doors nor windows. Here we had a peculiar, almost comical adventure, but it did not seem so funny at first.

As there were no stables, I had the horses let into one of the rooms in which there was not much to damage. Leading off this was a small cubby-hole with place for a bed – but no bed; the vet and the driver settled in here, using our small remaining supply of hay as pillows. I settled down in the wagon, as the room was too dirty and the night was mild.

Suddenly I was woken by a great scream of fear and the stamping of the horses. I felt sure that my men were being beaten or killed. With my sabre in my hand I jumped down from the wagon. By the pale glow of a light in one of the convent windows, I saw my horse dragging my driver around the floor by his hair. He had smelled the hay under the driver’s head and tried to get it. Now the hair was snagged in his teeth and he could not let go. This is due to the fact that the driver had long, curly hair, that was in a bit of a mess due to our style of life. My vet tried to help, but as the horse kept walking backwards, pulling and pulling, and as the other horses were stamping around, he could not do the job alone. Even the two of us had great difficulties to free the driver. Thus our night’s sleep, in the solitude of the convent, which we had looked forward to so much, was rudely disturbed. The driver got off with a few kicks and a shock. A Polack like that can put up with a lot!

The 14 October was an ominous day; we lost our way early on, went far astray and upset the vehicle, but did no real damage, and at midday we reached a small village, where we found food and forage in abundance. We thought that we could help ourselves, and the horses obviously enjoyed the hay. But we were soon taught otherwise.

A group of peasants appeared with the landowner at their head. They seemed very aggressive and wanted nothing better than to beat us up. The landlord came forward and asked me why we had left the main road? There were magazines there. This was not a military road and so on.

There was nothing for it but to outwit him. I acted more aggressively than the peasants. I shouted at them that I had left the road because there were insufficient supplies in the magazine there, as I had a train of 60 horses that were coming up behind. I had come on ahead to scout out the way and to find quarters for the night. This story, and my confident manner, worked the trick.


French dragoons guarding Russian prisoners. Albrecht Adam. Author’s collection.

They decided to negotiate. The landlord assured me that we could reach a large chateau easily before nightfall, where the lodgings would be much better than here. He painted a really rosy picture of it.

Initially I played the sceptic and took out a four-page map of Russia from the wagon and spread it out on the ground. I poked about on it and played the situation out as long as possible, so that the horses could eat their fill.

This ploy worked so well, that in the end they offered me money to go away. I rejected this indignantly; then wrote some lines of Italian on a piece of paper and gave it to him, saying that he could give this to a sergeant when my men arrived; they were Italians, who had great difficulty making themselves understood, but this would tell them to keep moving.

Thus we were out of a fix and went off with our well-satisfied horses as fast as possible. A good hour before darkness we reached the chateau that we had been promised. The lord and his wife were of the educated class. I entered politely; explained that we were lost and requested to be able to enjoy their hospitality until next morning. They welcomed me in and treated me as a not unwelcome guest. The food was very good.

We set off again next morning and that evening we found a very pretty little village off to the side of the road. My driver told me that everything was not quite what it seemed here. All sorts of men were creeping around the wagon, and he had overheard some remarks, which made him prick up his ears. I ought to be watchful and have someone else sleep in the wagon as well.

I told him that it was not so dangerous; they would scarcely murder me, and I could guard against robbery. As a precaution, I laid two loaded pistols on the seat beside me. My driver was right; during the night I felt someone fiddling with the box and heard murmured voices.

I did not move, but grasped my pistols and cocked them both, which they outside could hear clearly. At that, all fell silent; then someone tried to enter the wagon, putting his hand through the leather curtain. I gave it a heavy blow with the barrel of the pistol, whereupon he fell back; I then heard many footsteps running away. I was not disturbed again.

Next morning we met a poor Jew, who acted as our guide for some hours for a little money and led us back to the military road, that I had to follow according to my marching orders.

Since he had left Moscow, Adam had learned that leaving the military road was dangerous. In the two days he had been off the road, he had not met a single French soldier, and could thus have been murdered without anyone suspecting. Now back on the road, he found that what the landlord had told him was true: magazines had been set up on the military road. He continues:

We drew forage and fed the poor horses; it was just such a shame that they had almost died on the journey here. We went on wearily, but without event, for the next six days, until the 22 October, when we were three hours from Minsk.

It had taken us four weeks of countless difficulties and dangers to cover a journey of 200 hours. You can easily imagine what damage such a trip does to one’s clothing and equipment. The condition of the horses was really pitiful; it broke my heart just to look at them. They were in such poor state, that they could scarcely walk. On that last day, it took them a whole day to cover the distance that a pedestrian could cover in three hours.

When we left Moscow, a beautiful moonlit night had followed a stormy day. Having escaped the perils of that day, we had sought out a quiet, secret camping spot, to hide from the eyes of men like thieves, not even daring to light a fire. Now, four weeks later, we were again camping, for the last time, under a starlit sky, also at the full moon. But how the conditions had changed.

After sunset we reached a small copse by the side of the road, in a pretty little spot where a fire burned brightly, and where I could see various cooking vessels. A lot of people seemed to be in a good mood there, and I said: ‘I must see who those people are, they seem to be having a good time.’ I got down from the wagon and walked over to them. I was astonished to find my previous Israelite travelling companions. They were also surprised and greeted me with joy when they saw who I was. ‘Well, this is going to be a fine evening and we can all swap our memories!’

One of them drew a fine coffee set from his wagon and coffee was prepared, as they knew that I liked it. We added to the meal from our supplies and later we made grog. We were all very relaxed and the evening turned into a party, which went on until late in the night.

It is always a pleasant experience, in such a hazardous situation, to meet people who exhibit such loyalty. That is what these merchants did whenever I met them, and it was never with any selfish motivation.

It may have pleased them that I had showed none of the prejudice, that is generally shown in society to the Jews. This was not hard for me; I have always seen only the human being in a man, without regard for religion, nationality or class, and have always found it easy to make friends as soon as I recognised a good heart and fine feelings in anyone. This policy has never let me down.

The day after this meeting with the Jews (who begged me to stay with them if I should ever get to Glogau) I finally reached the sizeable town of Minsk. It was the evening of 23 October.

I stayed here for some days, to put some matters in order; to sell my horses (for a real song), because there was no way that I would be able to get on with those poor animals.

I could not expect to get new horses, so there was nothing for it but to go on to Wilna by post-horse.

The day after my arrival I called on the governor, who received me in friendly fashion and talked with me for a long time. He gave my papers to an officer of his staff, in order to have them signed and to make out the necessary passes so that I could get post-horses. When I had returned to my lodgings, I noticed that he had given me a route card, which took me via Wilna and Koenigsberg, and listed every post station through which I had to pass. The marching order was the same.

I went straight back to the governor and pointed out this error; I had asked to be allowed to return through Grodno and Warsaw. He looked at me seriously and said, very clearly: ‘There is no mistake; this is what I intended. You cannot take that route! Go the way that I have given you. I wish you a pleasant journey!’ I could see from his manner, that there was nothing to be done.

‘Odd behaviour by this man. Why on earth does he want me to make such a diversion?’ I said to myself. Then I bowed to the inevitable and set off. It soon became clear why I had been given this route in Minsk. Some days after I left the place, the advanced guard of the Russian army under Tschitschagoff’s command out of Turkey, appeared close to the town. And in the second night of my journey to Wilna, the post commander was unwilling to give me any horses, as there were rumours that there were Cossacks in the area. If I had taken the road to Grodno, I would have run straight into their arms.

That second night, before he reached Wilna, Adam had what he would later call ‘the most wonderful and joyful adventure of my entire journey’. He explains:

We were still two stations from Wilna, when I came to the post-house to change horses. In front of me was a loaded stage-coach, which attracted my attention, as the silhouette seemed familiar to me. But I thought no more of it and went into the post-house to register my name in the Post Book, as was required, until my horses had been changed. On the long benches, which ran round the walls, lay two officers covered in blue greatcoats. I thought no more of them and didn’t want to disturb them, but I asked who they were. I was told that they were a French general and an officer of cuirassiers, who had arrived an hour beforehand. I climbed into my wagon and soon fell asleep, dreaming of my dear de Saive, when I was woken by a shout from outside my vehicle.

I couldn’t believe my ears and thought that I was still dreaming, but again and again I heard: ‘Mr Adam! Mr Adam!’ I threw back the leather curtain of the wagon and saw the valet of my friend de Saive. He told me that his master had woken up just after I left and had signed his name under mine in the Post Book. He had ordered him to saddle up a courier horse at once and to ride after me until he caught me up. He added that de Saive was beside himself with joy at this wonderful coincidence. He would follow and hoped to catch me at the next post-house.

Anyone who understands the deep feelings that existed between me and this nobleman, who understood the emotions that attached me to him, the significant moments of my life that he had shared with me, always there at my side as partner and protector, will have some faint idea of the joy which I felt when I heard this in the middle of the night in a foreign land.

Was it the familiar shape of the coach, in which I had so often travelled, was it the two sleeping figures, which attracted my attention, or was it the mental image of de Saive of whom I was just dreaming? I don’t know myself, but it was a wonderful meeting, with all the surrounding circumstances.

From then on I travelled at a walk, but it was not until we reached the next post-house that we met. The joy of our unexpected meeting was indescribable. From there we travelled together on to Wilna. Here, I spent the three happiest days of my journey; they went all too quickly. We had such a lot to tell each other! How many memories of happier days were awakened in these rest days. But dark thoughts for the future and for the fate of the army cast a dark shadow over our meeting.

De Saive had been sent by Prince Eugene to Wilna on business and was to stay there when I left after those three days.3

Wilna is a very fine town, and the lifestyle which existed there was of the liveliest; a great confluence of all sorts of troops. You could get anything here if you had the money. I improved parts of my costume and bought a new hat; I could not be seen anywhere in my old one.

To continue the journey with post-horses seemed to me to be too expensive. I feared that my supply of cash would run out. I thus made a contract with a Jew, to drive us to Koenigsberg for 40 Thalers. These people do all sorts of business, especially transportation. He had five horses, harnessed abreast, and we really moved along.

This Jew, I should say, was gifted with endless plots and stories, as are most people of his sort. You could well have believed that he had taken lessons from an Italian Vetturino. Luckily, I had learned how to handle such fellows; on one or two occasions it came to blows, as there was no other way to solve the impasse. Then we made it up again. It was always about money and swindling.

I had left my Polish servant in Wilna; he soon found a new master, with whom he went to Paris. Three years later, he visited me in Munich.

We left Wilna on 28 October, reached the Niemen at Kowno, and carried on up the right bank of the river to Tilsit. Here we left Russia. I shall never forget that wonderful feeling that I had, when I bade farewell to the Russian border post.


Denis Davidov, Russian cavalry officer and extremely successful partisan commander. Author’s collection.

There is little to tell of our journey from Wilna to Tilsit, even though it took us eight days. We usually had bad lodgings and bad roads, but the weather was still very fine. To my great joy, we met up with the baggage of the Crown Prince of Württemberg on the road again.

On 5 November we arrived in Tilsit. With the first step on the left bank of the Niemen, we were back on the soil of our German homeland, which we greeted with a joy and happiness that can only be understood by those who have lived among foreigners for a long time.

As luck would have it, the contrast between this first German town and the far bank of the Niemen hit me in the eye. I was quartered on a family of the educated class; a widow with three daughters, who competed in beauty, the freshness of youth and the grace of their manners. Their mother was still fairly young and her speech and manner was gentle and attractive. This was all in incredible contrast to the life, the houses, and family conditions that I had seen on the Russian bank of the Memel.

I was received politely, and invited to enter the family parlour, sit down and warm myself, until my room would have been warmed up. I was offered coffee. Initially, the atmosphere was a little frosty, as the French eagles on my uniform buttons and cuffs were repugnant to these ladies. Despite this, they were friendly, and became more so when they realised that under this French uniform there beat a German heart.

They were very attentive, looked after me very well and regretted that I would be with them only for a day. They would have liked me to stay longer, so that I could recover from the privations. That meant me going to the town commandant to obtain special permission; which he gladly gave me. I thus spent three pleasant days there, which did me the world of good, psychologically.

On the other hand, I had to wean myself gradually off the long, wild nomadic lifestyle, learn to sleep in a proper bed and to clean myself up. I was so hardened to the open air and rough weather, that after I returned to Munich, I worked for most of that hard winter of 1812-1813 in an unheated room.



This was the brother of the marshal.


13th Division, IV Corps.


The two friends never met again, but exchanged many lively letters. De Saive settled in Belgium, his homeland, as a farmer, and lived to a ripe and happy old age with his wife and many children. Finally, the strains of his earlier life caught up with him; he became lame and almost blind. He retained his love of art and of the church to his dying day.

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