The Country was Barren and Dusty Past the Niemen

In the book 1812: Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia, Antony Brett-James quotes Lieutenant Karl von Suckow.  Lt. von Suckow wrote there was “Not a soul in sight, not an inhabitant in the villages we passed through…. we were all struck by the absence of any birds flying up at our approach.”

“These exceptional marches, added to the great shortages we had to put up with, thinned our ranks to an unexpected degree and thousands of men disappeared within a very short time.  Hundreds killed themselves…Every day one heard isolated shots… Patrols were sent to investigate and they always came back and reported… [it was a] Frenchman, or an ally, who has just committed suicide.”

To add to the misery of the heat and lack of food and water was the dust.  Lt. von Suckow writes that the dust was so thick “I recall that at one stage, so as to prevent anyone taking a wrong turning, a drummer was stationed at the head of each battalion, and his job was to beat the drum all the time.  This fact alone will indicate just how dense the clouds of dust were.”

A Captain Fritz _____ (last name unknown) from Pomeranian Mecklenburg, now part of northern Germany, was serving on the Russian side.  Writing about the Russian withdrawal towards the fortified camp of Drissa in early July, he also remarked on the dust.  He had served on the British side in Spain so was used to heat and dust, but these couldn’t compare to the conditions in Russia.  “If one was unfortunate enough to be caught between the innumerable waggons, which ploughed along in deep sand ruts at the slowest pace of the draught animals, and to have to remain among them for hours on end without being able to escape, then one was enveloped in so much dust that one really thought one would suffocate.”

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