Napoleon Reaches Kamen

On July 24, 1812, Napoleon reached the city of Kamen, about 200 miles from the Niemen river crossing.  He wrote to the Empress, “We are having much rain, the weather is stifling, always we keep marching… I have marched too far.”

Meanwhile, the cavalry under Marshal Joachim Murat was riding through the countryside ahead of the main army, looking for the Russians.  Major Heinrich von Roos was a doctor with the 3rd Wurttemberg Regiment in Montbrun’s cavalry corps.  He wrote that “On 23 July we came in pouring rain to the River Dvina, which we had orders to cross.  There was no bridge.  For several days we had not been dry, and now such a cold bath was pleasant for nobody, all the more so because we were in a sickly condition.”  He rode his swimming horse across the river between two N.C.O.s and made it safely to the other side although soaked up to his ribs.  He noted “Everyone who swam was drenched likewise.  None of our men was drowned, but the next regiment did not get over without loss.”

On the far bank, they built fires, but could not get dry because of the rain.  “We exchanged greetings, filled our pipes, and everyone who had some schnaps in his bottle offered it round to his friends.”

It is interesting to note that there were women along with the scouting cavalry.  von Roos wrote that they pitied two wives of the regiment who rode smaller horses and as a result they and their baggage were even more soaked than the men.  He mentions them by name and was very complimentary about their abilities, “The first, Frau Worth, was able to fend for herself so well under all circumstances that she was highly esteemed by the officers and respected by the soldiers.  The other woman, the careful Frau Weiler, had already proved extremely useful to us, and did so again when we advanced further into Russia, through her knowledge of the Polish language.”

Another source is the artist Albrecht Adam.  He wrote on the 24th that Prince Eugene de Beauharnais‘s corps was next to the River Dvina.  Napoleon and the main army joined them there.  He tells an amusing story about how he could observe Napoleon and his party on the high bank of the river.  He “noticed a striking person wearing a light-blue coat trimmed all over in gold braid, red trousers edged with gold, a strange hat lavishly decked with plumes – in short, a person of whom I could make nothing.  What struck me most forcibly was that he had so much to do near the Emperor…”  Adam finally asks an officer “Perhaps you can solve a riddle.  How is it that the Emperor has so many dealings with that drum-major?”  The officer exclaimed “…that is Murat, the King of Naples.”

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