The march to Smolensk and an interesting way to tell the health of an army

Heinrich von Roos of Montbrun’s cavalry, wrote about the march from Vitebsk to Smolensk.  “… in a few days we were separated from the army, and wandered around the countryside meeting neither friend nor foe…  Where exactly we went on this march I could not say.  There was seldom an opportunity to ask the name of a little town or village, because the inhabitants fled or went into hiding.”

They were able to determine whose cavalry had gone on before them by recognizing “… the method of shoeing and from the wheel tracks.  The troops always leave something behind by which one can ascertain their nationality.  As soon as the column has gone past one notices a smell peculiar to each army, and veterans know it at once.”

“… this campaign had the special feature that the excreta left by men and animals behind the Russian front indicated a good state of health, whereas one found behind ours the clearest possible signs that the entire army, men and horses alike, must have been suffering from diarrhea.”

In order to relieve this condition, the men would brew peppermint or chamomile tea.  If these were not available, balm-mint or elder-blossom were used.  Thick soup or broth were given during severe attacks.  The medicines were all used up and the patients had to do without.  The sutlers, however, did catch up and brought wine which was “… enjoyed by anyone who had money or credit.”

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