Daily Archives: July 8, 2012

Feeding the Army on the March

In George F. Nafziger’s book, Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, he writes that Napoleon is unfairly criticized for the lack of provisions for the army during the Russian campaign.
Foraging on the move rather than relying on a supply train had worked for the French army’s advantage for many years.  Napoleon was aware of the poor foraging situation he would find in Russia.  The French studied the Russian campaign of Sweden’s Charles the XII and knew about the Russian’s scorched earth tactic.
Napoleon began accumulating supplies in depots a year prior to the invasion.  To move the provisions, Napoleon planned on using wagons and increasing their capacity by adding two more horses to the usual four.  This reduced the need for wagons.  When rains hit, however, the wagons sank in the poor Russian roads and could not keep up with the advancing army.
Napoleon’s plan was to engage the enemy quickly and not advance as far as Moscow, making a long supply train unnecessary.  The Russians, however, refused to stand and fight and Napoleon continued to advance, stretching his supply train.

The Viceroy of Italy’s Camp

This account from Albrecht Adam describes some of the conditions faced on the march.

The Viceroy of Italy’s Camp,
Night of 8 to 9 July 1812
by Albrecht Adam

The Viceroy of Italy’s Camp, Wielke-Solezniki
“On the 8th we were hit by such a terrible storm that the Viceroy [Prince Eugène de Beauharnais] and his entire staff were obliged to call a halt to their march along the main road even though they were but three miles from Imperial Headquarters.  They did this in an attempt to escape the torrential rain.  Horses could make no further progress and anyone attempting to ride soon ground to a halt.  Eventually, the march was resumed and we arrived at Headquarters soaked to the skin and absolutely exhausted.  Fortunately, a beautiful summer’s evening gave us respite and this probably persuaded the Viceroy to sleep beneath the stars rather than risk a night in a dirty house prey to vermin.”

“One of the Prince’s aides-de-camp, General Triaire, lies next to him on a simple wooden bed with a mattress of straw.  A soldier from the Guards of Honour stands sentinel next to the fire.”

Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812; Edited by Jonathan North