Letters Home from the Campaign (Never Received)

Jakob Walter’s book, The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier,  includes six letters home from soldiers (none from Walter).  The letters were included by the editor of the book.  They are from fellow Württembergers or Westphalians and ended up in an archive in Leningrad.

In order to keep news from individual soldiers from contradicting Napoleon’s positively worded Bulletins de la Grande Armée during the campaign, letters to home were read and confiscated if they contained news contrary to the Bulletins.  Six of these confiscated letters were eventually sent to the Kingdom of Westphalia government where they eventually came into the possession of a Russian General who turned them over to his government.

Most of the letters were asking for something, usually money, but one was asking for shirts.  The writer, George Bormann, wrote his letter on Christmas Eve 1812.  There are a few interesting things about his letter.  One is that he describes the burning of Moscow, but makes it sound like it burned from a battle:  “Unfortunately we were there [Moscow] only twenty-four hours as the Russian troops pushed forward again and put fire to this city, with grenades and incendiary bombs was this beautiful city destroyed and turned into an ash heap.”  Since there wasn’t an attack on Moscow, I can only assume he was looking at the situation from his point of view and perhaps the burning of the city appeared to be from an attack.

After the city was destroyed “And so we retreated, when many died and I lost my health.  We retreated Twenty-four miles when Emperor Alexander endcircled us with 200,000 in our back and captured us…..they [Russians] did not leave a shirt on our skin.  So you can well imagine, dear parents, in what condition I am in.”   At this point he asks his parents to “… help me out with some shirts.”

The final thing that struck me was his line “More I don’t know what to write than that you will soon get foreign troops.”

Reading the letters I thought about the mail system in those days and the length of time it must have taken for a letter to travel hundreds of miles and then for a return letter to find a soldier in a moving army (in this case, a prisoner of war).  These letters asking for money and shirts were never received and I can imagine the sender waiting day after day for their requests to be answered.  Hopefully, they wrote other letters that made it through.

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