When the army arrived at Smolensk, instead of the hoped for relief, they only found disappointment. The shell of a city offered nothing they had hoped for. Faber du Faur described the conditions.
Camp in Smolensk, 13 November
“So here we were in the promised land of Smolensk, a place where we thought to put an end to our suffering, the goal of our every effort. We had imagined abundance in the city’s depots, warm houses to accommodate us and secure winter quarters to end our woe All this had maintained our courage and kept the soldiers in the ranks. But it was all a lie. It was nothing more than a miserable pit, and Smolensk, instead of putting an end to the destruction, merely hastened the end of the entire army.”
“We established our camp in eighteen degrees of frost, in the midst of the burnt ruins of a house. We had but little food, and that had had to be snatched from magazines surrounded by spectres maddened by hunger. This is all Smolensk , that great city, had to offer.”
“We had to continue the march through the cold and horror. And the frontier of Russia was another thirty days’ march away! We destroyed a number of guns here and, pooling our resources, found the means to drag with us four 6-pounders – all that remained of our artillery. We placed our sick and dying in houses in the New Square, for these had been converted into hospitals. These hospitals could not deal with such a scale of suffering and they presented a horrifying spectacle. The unfortunate sick were scattered here and there, in amongst the columns of the arcades or still slumbering in the wagons that had brought them here. Abandoned by everyone, deprived of all care, the vast majority fell victim to the cold of the first night.”
“Whilst in Smolensk we heard the rumble of guns – a noise that announced the arrival of Kutuzov’s Russians.”
With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur, 1812, Edited by Jonathan North