The French Let Down Their Guard

The account of Philippe-Paul de Ségur tells about a “minor” incident that happened around this time.  Napoleon had received word that Emperor Alexander had ordered Kutuzov to stand and fight before Moscow.  A Russian envoy entered the French camp with a flag of truce.  Ségur picks up the story, “This Russian officer had so little to say that it was at once evident that he had come as an observer.  His bearing displeased Davout in particular, who found him overconfident.  One of our generals, having thoughtlessly asked him what we should find between Viazma and Moscow, got the arrogant replay, ‘Poltava!’ [Battle in which Peter the Great defeated Charles XII of Sweden in 1709 during Charles’ invasion of Russia].  This answer promised a battle and pleased our generals, who appreciated a ready rejoinder and were always happy to encounter opponents worthy of them.”

“This envoy was escorted away without precaution, as he had been admitted and saw that anyone could get into the imperial headquarters without any difficulty.  He passed our outposts without being challenged by a single sentry.  Everywhere he found the same carelessness, that boldness natural to the French, and to victors.  Everybody was asleep, there was no password, no patrol.  Our soldiers seemed to neglect these precautions as being beneath their notice.  Why worry about security?  They were attacking, they were victorious.  Let the Russians be on the defensive.  This same officer said later that he was tempted to take advantage of our imprudence that night, but there was no Russian force at hand.”

Source: Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, by Philippe-Paul de Ségur, p 48.

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