Life is Good for this General

Not everyone, however, was suffering.  It often took many wagons to move an officer’s belongings on campaign.  General Jean-Dominique Compans described the first few days of the invasion in a letter to his wife dated June 29, 1812.  His letter was written “Four leagues from Vilna, on the Kovno road.”

General Jean-Dominique Compans

Perhaps the letter was colored so as not to worry his wife.  It does sound, however, that he was spared many of the discomfort of the soldiers in the ranks.

“…  When the weather is fine, I sleep on straw under a shelter of branches and manage very well.  When the weather is bad, I sleep in a carriage, but when morning comes I feel the effects of not being able to stretch my legs.  However, none of this prevents me from enjoying excellent health, strength, and vigour.”

“I eat in the open air four or five times a day and my digestion works admirably: indeed, my stomach and I are in perfect harmony, and it couldn’t function better.  Every day I drink my bottle of Bordeaux wine, a little glass of rum, and several glasses of beer when I have any that is good, which does happen occasionally.  Now and then I take a cup of coffee.  We are not short of beef and mutton.  Duval [Compans’ valet de chambre, who was to die in Russia] is still at his post, and produces quite good campaign cooking.  From time to time we get a chicken or a goose, but unfortunately in this country these stupid creatures would rather be captured than purchased, and the takers are far more numerous than the buyers.  Before leaving Elbing I laid in a store of hams, smoked tongues, sausage, and rice.  These help to vary the menu, but of all this food my favourite dish is rice cooked in a good tablet soup à la Duval.  No green vegetables in this country; they take flight whenever our soldiers appear.  Nevertheless, we have found a few which had been hidden in their knapsacks.  I have had occasion to punish soldiers in my division who have been caught in this way: in my view one should be more on one’s guard than this in war-time.”

General Compans commanded the 5th Infantry Division of Davout’s I Corps.

Source: 1812: Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia edited by Antony Brett-James

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