Daily Archives: June 8, 2012

The Army Crosses Germany

To get an army of 600,000 into place was a logistical undertaking itself.  François Dumonceau, a captain in the 2nd Regiment of Chevau-légers lanciers of the Imperial Guard wrote the following account:  “At this time [April] the whole of Germany was covered with columns on the march towards the north, and although these were carefully echelonned so as to avoid any congestion, the countryside was nevertheless trampled down by reiterated and often excessive demands.  All these troops, whether allies (from Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Westphalia, and elsewhere) or the French, were imbued with a fighting spirit which, now that they found themselves once more on a war footing, made them frequently too imperious in their relations with the owners of military billets.  As a result many abuses occurred.  However, Marshals Davout [Ist Corps] and Oudinot [IInd Corps], whose corps were ahead of us, tried to remedy the situation by a regulation which fixed the composition of each meal, for officers as well as for other ranks; among other things, this regulation allowed the officers half a bottle of wine a day.  We found this regulation printed, posted, and strictly observed everywhere.  At the slightest dispute, the local inhabitants took advantage of the regulation; and this helped to guarantee a measure of justice or moderation in our mutual relationships.”

Dumonceau makes an interesting observation about how the troops were regarded by the locals: “Our hosts received us with urbanity, without too much apparent resentment, despite all of the inconveniences we caused them…  They considered us less as accomplices than as victims of these ceaseless wars…”

One eyewitness to the army’s passing was nine-year-old Wilhelm von Kügelgen in Dresden: “I can still see the long dark columns of the Old Guard with their proud eagles, tall bearskins, and martial faces hovering like gloomy dream pictures; first the warlike sound of drums and pipes, then the ghostly figures of the pioneers with glinting axes and long black beards, and behind them the endless columns of transport.”