In Alan Palmer’s book, Napoleon in Russia, he describes the action that took place three miles to the east of Viasma as the French column headed west. Since leaving Moscow, Davout’s Ist Corps had served as rearguard.
During the day of November 3rd, 1812, Davout’s Corps was harassed by the Russian army and Cossacks. As they neared Viasma, the Cossacks were able to cut off the column and capture parts of the baggage train which was travelling unguarded between corps as part of the column.
In preparation for a general action, Ney’s 3rd Corps came back east to cover the column as it approached Viasma. Near evening, Davout’s corps spotted some Russians and came under artillery fire. The corps broke and ran for Viasma while Ney’s corps covered the retreat. Throughout the night there were artillery duels which caused the French take up their arms, but no attacks came. Viasma, however, caught fire and burned.
Napoleon was 45 miles ahead to the west when he received word of the action. Ney and his 3rd Corps was ordered to assume the rearguard position. Also, the baggage was to travel in the middle of the corps, not between two corps and an escort was to line both sides of the road as it travelled.
Davout’s corps had left Moscow with 30,000 men and was now down to 15,000. That night, the first snow fell.
Colonel Griois, commander of the artillery in the 3rd cavalry corps recorded how he spent the night of the first snow: “The only shelter near the place I had halted in was a sort of barn open to all the winds and its roof supported by four posts. This lodging seemed to me excellent by comparison with those I had had for a long time past. I had a large fire built in the centre and lay down to sleep beside it, surrounded by my horses. But during the night snow began to fall heavily, and the wind blew it under the roof with such force that when I woke up at daybreak I was covered in snow, as was the whole landscape. The snow had hardened and was all frozen. Winter had fallen on us with full severity and was not going to leave us.”