The Battle Continues by Firelight

Sgt. Bourgogne continues his story about the battle that took place in the early morning hours of November 16, 1812.  Surrounded in Krasnoe with the lead corps of the Grande Armée, Napoleon had sent the Old Guard back to break up the Russian threat on the road from Smolensk.  The Old Guard had just charged into the Russian camp and had employed the bayonet:  “The men who were stationed further off now had time to arm themselves, and come to their comrades’ help.  This they did by setting fire to their camp and the two villages near.  We fought by the light of the fires.  The columns on the right and left had passed us, and entered the enemy’s camp at the two ends, whereas our column had taken the middle.  I have omitted to say that, as the head of our column charged into the Russian camp, we passed several hundred Russians stretched on the snow; we believed them to be dead or dangerously wounded.  These men now jumped up and fired on us from behind, so that we had to make a demi-tour to defend ourselves.  Unluckily for them, a battalion in the rear came up behind, so that they were taken between two fires, and in five minutes not one was left alive.  This was a stratagem the Russians often employed, but this time it was not successful.  Poor Beloque was the first man we lost; he had foretold of his death at Smolensk.  A ball struck his head, and killed him on the spot.  He was a great favourite with us all, and, in spite of the indiffernce we now felt about everything, we were really sorry to lose him.”

“We went through the Russian camp, and reached the village.  We forced the enemy to throw a part of their artillery into a lake there, and then found that a great number of foot soldiers had filled the houses, which were partly in flames.  We now fought desperately hand-to-hand.  The slaughter was terrible, and each man fought by himself for himself.  I found myself near our Colonel, the oldest in France, who had been through the campaign in Egypt.  A sapper was holding him up by the arm, and the Adjutant-Major Roustan was there too.  We were close to a farmyard filled with Russians, and blockaded by our men; they could retreat only by an entrance into a large courtyard close by a barrier.”

“While this desultory fighting was going on, I saw a Russian officer on a white horse striking with the flat of his sword any of his men who tried to get away by jumping over the barrier, and so effectually preventing his escape.  He got possession of the passage, but just as he was preparing to jumpt to the other side, his horse fell under him, struck by a ball.  The men were forced to defend themselves, and the fighting now grew desperate.  By the lurid light of the fire it was a dreadful scene of butchery, Russians and Frenchmen in utter confusion, shooting each other muzzle to muzzle.”

The Russians in the burning building tried to negotiate a surrender, but the French were unable to get their men to stop firing.  The Russians, facing the choice of being burned alive or forcing their way out of the house, made a rush at the French, but were pushed back.  During a second attempt, the building collapsed killing those inside and those who had just made it outside as well.

Bourgogne and his comrades gathered round their exhausted Colonel and waited for daylight….”There is nothing more terrible than a battle at night, when often fatal mistakes take place.”

Jakob Walter arrived on the 16th at Krasnoe “amid a thousand kinds of danger… where the Russians received us, having in the meantime circled around to our front.  Here the French Guard, with the remaining armed forces that could still be brought together, took its position along the highway and kept up the firing against the enemy as well as possible. Although the enemy had to yield, any movements on our part drew vigorous firing upon us.  Unfortunately, all the time the greatest misery fell upon the poor sick, who usually had to be thrown from the wagons just to keep us from losing horses and wagons entirely and who were left to freeze among the enemies, for whoever remained lying behind could not hope to be rescued.”

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