An informal truce

Carl Anton Wilhelm, a second lieutenant in the 9th Regiment of Polish Lancers, described how the Russian dragoons initiated an informal truce with the French facing them.  “… Then the Russians stopped firing… sheathed their swords as a sign that they did not wish to go on fighting.  We followed their example …”

“Soon a Russian officer of dragoons rode forward a few paces, greeted us, and made signs with a bottle.  I followed suit and placed myself in front of our line of tirailleurs.  In this way we approached to within thirty yards of one another, whereupon the Russian shouted in French: ‘Mon camrade! It is useless to exhaust our horses and kill our men for nothing.  Let us drink together instead.  There will be plenty of time for fighting afterwards.'”

“We went nearer and enjoyed a friendly drink, while other troops continued fighting undisturbed in the distance.  A few more Russian officers came up shortly.  I wanted to withdraw, but the dragoon officer said: ‘I promise you on my word of honor that they will do you no harm.'”

“So I stayed and we talked amicably.  I found his rum good, but could not give him any in return.  It was not long before other officers arrived from both sides.  Our sutler, Frau Ehmke, a pretty woman who always rode round among the light infantrymen and had two little casks of brandy on her horse, came past and poured the Russians a free drink, though she charged us a high price for her liquor.”

One Polish-born Russian officer, upon hearing that a regiment of Polish lancers stood further back, rode over to them.  “We thought he meant to desert, but this was not his intention at all.  He merely wanted to see his fellow-countrymen and air his bitter views about the inglorious way in which Barclay de Tolly had chosen to wage war.”

This officer predicted the French would enter Smolensk the next day, but the Russians would be gone.  Meanwhile, a French general noticed the fraternization and sent an aide to tell the Russians to withdraw behind their own lines or they would be fired on.  He also issued orders for the arrest of the Polish-born officer.  “…the aide rode so slowly – no doubt on purpose – that the Pole was warned by another officer and hurried away.”

“We remained opposite each other for several hours longer, until the evening, but the friendship which had been struck up lasted, and not another shot was fired until both sides withdrew.”

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