On the morning of Sunday, August 16, 1812, the battle of Smolensk began with the firing of the French artillery. Smolensk sits on the southern bank of the Dneiper River and is surrounded by hills. The Russians occupied the city behind its 30 foot high and 18 feet thick walls. They also held the northern bank. The Grande Armée surrounded the city on the south.
For two days, the French assaulted the city. There was fierce fighting in the suburbs, but the walls could not be breached by men or cannon. Captain Eduard von Löwenstern with the Russian rearguard was sickened by the slaughter of French troops. “As I now had no official duties, I rode out to a battery in order to watch the battle… The artillery oficer, a young man of about my own age [twenty-two] distinguished himself… allowed the French to come as close as possible and then, as soon as they came within case-shot range, shattered great heaps of them to the ground. In the many battles and actions in 1806 and 1807, and also in this campaign, I had often seen soldiers fall, but never in my experience had I seen so many felled by a single salvo, weltering in their own blood and without arms or legs… Another column soon advanced and, with a hail of bullets, avenged the death of their comrades. Many of our artillerymen were shot.”