The Death of Smolensk

Russian poet and author, Fedor Glinka, was a witness to the battle of Smolensk.  He was serving as an officer in the Russian army at the time of the battle and wrote the following account:
8 August [20 August]. The Village of Tsurikovo
I witnessed a horrible scene – the death of Smolensk. The destruction of
Lisbon [from the earthquake in 1755] could not have been worse than this.
On the 4th [16 August], the enemy rushed to Smolensk but was greeted by
a handful of intrepid Russians under its walls. On the 5th [17 August], from
early morning till late evening, a battle raged for some twelve hours before
the walls, on top and behind them. The Russians did not concede even an
inch of ground. They fought like lions. The French, or rather the Poles,
The Walls of SmolenskThese brick walls stood 200 years ago as part of the 6.5 km fortification encircling the cityOriginally with 38 towers, in 1812 there were 30 and only 17 exist todayPhotograph taken November 2012 and is courtesy of Pierre Toussaint, member of the Centre d'Etudes Napoléoniennes

The Walls of Smolensk
These brick walls stood 200 years ago as part of the 6.5 km fortification encircling the city
Originally with 38 towers, in 1812 there were 30 and only 17 exist today
Photograph taken November 2012 and is courtesy of Pierre Toussaint, member of the
Centre d’Etudes Napoléoniennes

attacked in a mad frenzy, climbing on the walls, bursting through the gates, rushing onto the ramparts and crowding, in countless multitudes, around the city on the other side of the Dnieper. Finally, tired of our resistance, Napoleon gave orders to burn the city that he could not grapple from us.

His henchmen carried out the monster’s order at once. Clouds of bombs,
shells and cannonballs fell onto homes, towers, shops, churches. And these
houses, churches and towers ignited, and anything that could burn burst into
flames! Burning neighbourhoods, thick multi-hued smoke, crimson sunset,
the crackle of bursting bombs, the roar of cannon, boiling musket fire, the
rattle of drums and the wail of the elders, wives and children of an entire
people falling to their knees with hands raised to heaven: this what unfolded
in front of our eyes, struck our hearing and tore our hearts! The crowds of
people ran from the fire as Russian regiments marched into the fire; some
saved lives, others sacrificed theirs. A long row of carts with the wounded
proceeded from the town . . .
In deep dusk the icon of the Mother of God of Smolensk was brought out of
the city. A dull ringing of bells, mingling with the crackle of decaying buildings
and the thunder of the battle, accompanied this sad procession. The glitter of
the fires lit its way. Meanwhile, black and purple clouds of smoke lodged over
the city, and the fast-approaching night thickened the darkness and amplified
the horrors. The confusion of people was so great that many ran half-naked
and mothers lost their children. The Cossacks carried infants on their saddles
from this raging hell. Napoleon gave orders that Smolensk had to be taken on
the 5th [17 August], but the Russians defended it with their breasts and the
city was not taken. But at dawn on the 6th [18 August] – oh, the vicissitude
of fate! – that which was defended so valiantly was given up voluntarily! The
commander-in-chief had reasons for that. Now Smolensk is but a huge pile of
ashes, its neighbourhoods are like the neighbourhood [of Pompeii] after the
eruption of Vesuvius. Our troops hastily retreat to Dorogobuzh, but now, that
is, in the evening of 8 August [20 August], they have stopped near Bredikha.
We fought the other day, we fought yesterday, we were fighting today and will
be fighting tomorrow! These scoundrels prevail only because of their great
numbers. Arm all and everyone, the commander-in-chief’s last proclamation
finally declares. At last – the people’s war is at hand!
His Imperial Highness Constantine Pavlovich, diligently sharing the army’s
hardship and dangers, had witnessed the bloody battle and the terrible fire of
Smolensk. With profound sorrow, he gazed at the destruction of one of the

Participants of the Battle of Smolensk
By Sergey Prisekin

oldest cities of our homeland. The residents of Smolensk are inconsolable.

Their misfortunes are indescribable. Oh, my friend! Your heart would have
bled white if you had seen the suffering of our homeland. But God works in
mysterious ways. So even if the cities are ravaged, villages burned, houses
destroyed and the quiet days of peace are forgone, let this sacrifice of blood
and tears, and the groans of the people flowing up into the clouds together
with smouldering fires, appease the angry heavens! Let the provinces suffer
but the Fatherland be saved! Such are the common voices of souls, such is the
sincere prayer of all Russian hearts!
My elder brother and I eagerly awaited until our brother Gregory escaped
from the fire. For twelve hours he was in the skirmishing line and fought as
bravely as befits a true resident of Smolensk defending his native city. All
officers of his regiment confirmed this. Major-General Olenin commanded
their brigade and led it into the fiercest of the fighting. Everyone regrets the
death of General Balla, a remarkable comrade and a man of extraordinary
courage and kindness, who was killed in the skirmish line on the 5th [17
August]. The bloody combats still continue. We go to bed and wake up under
the glow and glitter of thundering gunfire. Already I cannot return home since
the road is cut off! So I follow wherever this storm of war moves us all! Oh,
how many wounded! How many fleeing! Endless supply trains run through

Participants of the Battle of Smolensk
By Sergey Prisekin

the fields, the crowds hurry without knowing where they are going! We are now destitute, but with a noble spirit, wandering sadly through the ruins of our homeland. Poor S.! While his brother was fighting and his native city was burning in front of his eyes, he learned that his father had fallen into a violent fever, and his mother, frightened by the approach of the enemy, died! This is an example of the terrible situation in which so many have found themselves!

Everywhere we see moans and destruction! We live in days of horror! Farewell
. . . maybe forever in this world!
Today’s blog post was provided by Alexander Mikaberidze, noted author of many books on the Russian military during the Napoleonic wars as well the Russian campaign of 1812.  I am honored that he has taken the time to provide this post.  Visit Amazon to see a collection of his works as well as his latest book: Russian Eyewitness Accounts of the campaign of 1812.
Also, thank you to Pierre Toussaint for providing the photograph of the walls of Smolensk and the information which accompanies the photo.

3 responses to “The Death of Smolensk

  1. It not Smolensk panorama – this is the Saxons attacking near Semionovskoe on the Borodino panorama, Moscow


  2. Pingback: Thank You! | Napoleon in Russia

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