Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Paintings of Albrecht Adam

Albrecht Adam (1786 – 1862) was a civilian artist who accompanied Napoleon’s army all the way to Moscow, but had the good fortune to leave before the retreat began.  Adam was a German who met Napoleon’s step-son/adopted son Prince Eugene de Beauharnais in 1809 who took him into his household in Italy as his court painter.  In 1812, he was attached to the Prince’s topographical bureau with IV Corps.  Because he left for home on September 24, 1812, his paintings only cover the advance into Russia.

I will post the last two paintings he made of the campaign here along with their accompanying text from Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812, edited by Jonathan North.

Moscow, 22 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

22 September 1812, Moscow
The violence of the fire which engulfed Moscow was matched by the ferocity of the French soldiers as they watched the destruction.  But the army of camp-followers, servants, sutlers and so on which follows in the wake of any army, committed its fair share towards the sacking of the city.  Horses, vehicles, furniture, tools, paintings, works of art, and all manner of other objects which were of no immediate need to anyone, all were seized and dragged into courtyards or onto street-corners and sold off.  Most of the looters were drunk and this meant that they frequently fell to quarreling over their booty, resulting in bloody and battered faces.”

“It had been an army previously distinguished by its fine martial bearing and its appearance, its love of order, sentiments of heroism and honour.  Now, it was revolting to behold and it was a sight which convinced me that I should now return to my homeland and no longer play the witness to inevitable ruin.  Firm in my resolve, I prepared to set off, deaf to those who warned me of the dangers of such a journey, not so that I might avoid the deplorable fate of the army but that I might escape the effects such disgusting scenes were having upon me.”

22 September 1812
Napoleon in Burning Moscow
by Albrecht Adam

22 September 1812, Moscow
“Here is the man who shaped the events which so characterized an age so unforgettable to those who lived through it.  A hero who, at the head of a valiant army, threatened to overthrow the governments of Europe and overturn the continent’s thrones.  But a hero who, in the ash of Moscow, met the end of his glorious career.  And at what cost was the effort to end the gigantic march of this man made?  Only an enormous sacrifice for Russia won victory.”

“No image can truly capture the terrible scene of burning Moscow, only those who saw the city prey to flames can recall the horror which so gripped the soul. Here I have placed a portrait of the hero of the age before the smoldering ruins of Moscow as they menace him with cries of ‘Here your career shall end!'”

Moscow, 24 September

Faber du Faur painted a scene of the aftermath of the fire in Moscow accompanied by this description:  “On the 14th our troops had made their way over the heights before Moscow.  From there they looked down on the thousand golden domes of the magnificent city of the Czars. In the centre of the city we could see the Kremlin.  The city was shrouded in silence; a mute canvas lay before us.  No smoke rose from the city’s chimneys, no curious inhabitants came to stare at the victorious foreigners, no deputation came to implore mercy from the vanquishers.  Moscow, just like Smolensk, Dorogobouye, Viasma and the others before it, had been abandoned by its inhabitants and Murat, with his cavalry corps, trailing the Russian rearguard through the city’s streets, heard noting bu the echo of his horses’ hooves.”

Moscow, 24 September
by Faber du Faur
Note the melted copper roof
in the middle and the body
near the soldiers

“Our arrival was the signal for the fire.  On the night of the 14th to 15th the Russians set fire to a number of areas but seemed to concentrate on the shops in the Chinese quarter.  Despite every effort to put out the conflagration, the fire raged until the 19th, and on the 20th the catastrophe was complete.  Two-thirds of the city’s buildings were now nothing more than heaps of ashes.  Moscow became the grave of our every hope.  There was an odious and penetrating smell of burning infecting the air; tracts of land contained nothing more than rubble and ashes, collapsed roofs and corpses.  Few areas had escaped from the fire and perhaps only the Kremlin, and a handful of suburbs, along with a number of palaces, churches and monasteries, had been spared and served as oases in this desert of ash.”

“Here and there groups of unfortunate inhabitants could be seen wandering in the grim labyrinth, hoping to discover that some part of their home had escaped destruction or to dig up some miserable food in order to prolong their unhappy existence.  Our troops were everywhere, hoping to discover some trophy and, like children, satisfy their greed with some bauble, only to discard it as soon as they came across some other novelty.  Few – too few – took the opportunity to prepare themselves for the encroaching Russian winter.  That which was valuable or useful was soon squandered, and order was only restored when it was too late, detachments being sent into the city with specific orders to procure necessities and supplies.”


With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Faber du Faur, 1812, Jonathan North

Monuments at Borodino

I recently saw some photos taken on the field at Borodino by Elena Khonineva who was part of a tour group in July of this year.  With Elena’s permission, I am glad to share them here.

A Grateful Russia
to its Defenders

This monument was built in 1912, destroyed in the 1920’s and rebuilt in 1995.  The architect was S. K. Rodionov.

Kutusov Monument at Gorski

Monument Chief of the Russian armies, MI Golenishchev-Kutuzov at the command post of the commander.  Built in 1912 by the military engineer PA Vorontsov – Sonya.  Located on a hill in the center of the village of Gorki on the main observation post commander. From the top of the hill is easily visible position of the Russian troops in the day of battle.

The obelisk is red granite topped bronze soaring eagle, holding in its claws gilded laurel wreath – a symbol of victory. On the front edge gold bright sword, aiming point up – terrible warning to the conquerors. Below – a niche with a bronze bas-relief, which depicts MI Kutuzov

Plaque from the base
of the Kutusov monument

issuing commands. Above the bas – words from the report of the commander Alexander I of the results of the battle of Borodino, “The enemy is reflected in all areas.” On the back side of the monument text: “From Field Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev – Kutuzov led troops in battle at p. Borodino August 26, 1812. ”

Monument to the French


This monument near Shevardino redoubt was made in 1913 on the site of Napoleon’s command post on the day of the Battle of Borodino. P.P.Besvilvalde architect. The monument was created, brought and placed on the French, with the consent of the Russian government in memory of the Napoleonic soldiers, officers and generals who were killed at Borodino on September 5-7 1812.

Monument to
3rd Infantry Division

The monument to the 3rd Infantry Division of General P.P. Konovnitsyn (built by architect A. Godunov 1912) on the grounds of the Borodinsky Savior Convent, which was built on Bagration’s fleches from 1839-1859.

Main Monument
to the Russians

This monument is on the site of the Raevsky redoubt.

Monument to Russian
27th Infantry Division

Monument to the 27th Infantry Division of General D.P. Neverovsky (1912).

Memorial to Russian
4th Infantry Division
of General Y E Vyutembergsky

Borodino Mile Marker

Thank you to Elena Khonineva for providing the photos (except for the Main Monument and the French monument) and some of the descriptions.

If any readers have more information on any of the above monuments, or others, please let me know and I will be happy to update this post — Scott Armstrong

Scenes of Moscow by Albrecht Adam

Albrecht Adam was a civilian attached to the topographical staff of Prince Eugène, commander of IV Corps and Napoleon’s step/adopted son.  Today’s post shows three paintings he dated 20 September 1812 along with their accompanying description.

The French Army Before Moscow
20 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

The French Army Before Moscow
“Here was the army camped a few miles before Moscow, so hopeful that the trials and tribulations were now at an end and that respite awaited them in the capital.  This camp was perhaps the last one the French army would enjoy and it is characterised by its military bearing.  Despite being exhausted, weakened by forced marches and reduced to half of its effectives by combat, it was still a great army commanded by a great captain and one which had braved all the obstacles the Russian terrain and climate could present.  But once it reached Moscow its fate was sealed.  Looking at this scene, which of us cannot prevent the sad reflection from escaping his lips that ‘those legions of heroes no longer exist'”

20 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

“On this day large parts of Moscow were nothing more than smouldering ruins.  The dye was cast, fortune was reversed and here it was that providence put an end to the glories hitherto enjoyed by the French army.”

“The soldiers were depressed having to deal with nothing but woe and were prey to dark presentiments.  Having been exhausted by forced marches, afflicted by all manner of privation and particularly by the lack of food, and deprived of clothing which might resist the rigours of bad weather, very few of them were in any condition to even consider what lay in store for them.  Soon they would succumb, unfortunates, to the terrible storm which would be unleashed upon them.”

“On 20 and 21 September elements of the army began to move into the city from Peterskoi where Napoleon had stayed whilst the fire ravaged the city.  A few sentries were posted here and there among the smoking cinders, all that remained of this fine imperial city, whilst bands of unfortunate men sought shelter in vain.  Others, motivated by abject want, searched high and low for food but there were also others, inspired by greed, who sought to acquire booty even though it could little benefit them in such desperate circumstances.  Everyone was in a state of confused desperation and none really knew what they were looking for.”

20 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

“The effect the destruction of Moscow had on individual soldiers was, of course, diverse, and it offered an attentive observer a rich variety of subjects to study.  On the whole, the vast majority were overcome by discouragement, partly induced by the long ordeal they had been through and by the fact that they had seen all their hopes for a better future, and for an end to their sufferings, go up in smoke.”

“Some of the more reflective soldiers were absorbed by sombre contemplation of what might now come to pass.  Those of a more insensitive nature allowed themselves the liberty to do as they pleased and to profit from the opportunity.  Discipline, so vital for the working of such a vast host, was gone and violence and selfishness overcame order.  True, a mass of provisions had been found in Moscow but the disorder which reigned in the city put paid to any attempt to distribute such supplies fairly.  Everyone, by guile or by force, sought to get his hands on anything which might prove useful.”

“So it was that one day, whilst passing through the ruins, I came across a body of drunken cavalrymen dragging along with them whatever they could carry and shouting at teach other to hurry up.  One of them was riding a horse carrying a basket loaded with bottles and supplies.  He was so completely drunk that he tottered this way and that until his horse made a sharp movement, sending the man sprawling on the floor along with his booty.  His comrades laughed heartily, drunk as they were, at the scene.”


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

Some Means to Prolong their Pitiful Existence

Another post from Faber du Faur as he traveled the road to Moscow and observed the wretched conditions of the wounded from Borodino.

On the Main Road Between
Mojaisk and Krymskoi,
18 September
by Faber du Faur

“Crowds of wounded from both armies were scattered in countless villages after the battle of Borodino.  Sooner or later these villages, either by chance or deliberately, burnt to the ground.  It was then that these unfortunates, unable to flee on account of their wounds, found themselves at the mercy of the flames.  It was not unusual to find charred corpses laid out on floors in serried lines.  Those that survived, some horribly mutilated, sought some means to prolong their pitiful existence.”


With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur, 1812, Edited by Jonathan North

Pillaging the Burnt City

Philippe-Paul de Ségur describes the scene as Napoleon returns to Moscow after having fled the flames, “The Emperor saw that his entire army was scattered over the city.  His progress was impeded by long lines of marauders going for plunder or returning with it…”

Napoleon in Burning Moscow

“He stumbled over the debris of all sorts of furniture which had been thrown out of the windows to save it from the flames, or over heaps of rich plunder that had been abandoned in favor of other loot; for soldiers are like that, snatching up anything they can lay their hands on, greedily loading themselves with more than they can hope to carry, then after a few steps finding their strength unequal to the load, dropping , piece by piece, the greater part of their booty.”

“The thoroughfares were blocked with it, and the public squares, like the camps, had become markets where the superfluous was being exchanged for the necessary.  The most precious of articles, not appreciated by their possessors, were sold for next to nothing, while other things having a deceptively rich appearance brought more than they were worth.  Gold, being easier to carry, was bought at a great loss for silver, which the knapsacks would not hold.  Soldiers were seated everywhere on bundles of merchandise on heaps of coffee and sugar, in the midst of the finest wines and liquors that they were trying to trade for bread.”

Horses in a Church

“It was through such disorder that Napoleon rode back into Moscow.  He willingly gave it over to pillage, trusting that his soldiers, scattered everywhere over the ruins, would not search them fruitlessly.  But when he saw that the disorder was increasing, that even the Old Guard was involved in it, that the Russian peasants, attracted by the prices they were able to get for their wares, were being robbed by our famished soldiers of the food they were bringing us, when he realized that all the still existing resources were being squandered by this lawless pillage — then he reined in the Guard and issued severe orders.  The churches in which our cavalry had taken shelter were evacuated and reopened for worship…”

“But it was too late!  The soldiers had disappeared, the terrified peasants never returned, and many, many supplies had been wasted.  The French army had been guilty of similar mistakes before, but in this case the fire was their excuse, as they had been compelled to act in haste to get ahead of the flames.  It is remarkable enough that order was restored at the Emperor’s first command.”


Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, Philippe-Paul de Ségur, pp. 114 – 116

The Field at Borodino September 17

Faber du Faur’s unit passed back over the field on September 17 and was able to describe and paint the scene, “Here, close by, in all its horror, was the valley of the Shevardino, close to where Morand’s division had been positioned at the start of the battle.  This is the battlefield long after the furious fighting had subsided, long after those violent passions had cooled, long after the powerful exclamations of honour and duty, which so stifle man’s humanity, had died away.  Now the battlefield has assumed the aspect we see before us, the ferocious masses of troops having been called away to some other scene of victory, and the silence of the tomb reigns supreme.  Bodies lie in heaps, enemy and friend alike united in profound peace.  Here and there a horse is still moving, having survived its deceased rider.”

On the Field of Borodino,
September 17
By Faber du Faur

“As we drew closer we could see that the corpses were, after eleven days, rotting away.”

“Below darkened skies, bands of fog, as though out of compassion, shielded us from seeing more of this vast scene of desolation.  Even so, we could plainly see the blood-soaked contours of the grand redoubt, the possession of which had been contested with such unabated fury.  A column had been erected within the redoubt bearing an inscription to the effect that here lay Montbrun and Caulaincourt, surrounded by fallen heroes.”

“The glory of our own troops was enshrined in these very redoubts, for it was here that Murat, overwhelmed by superior numbers, had sought shelter amongst us.”

“Here, on this field, we inscribed in the pages of history that never-to-be-forgotten name of Borodino.  No struggle had ever been so stubbornly contested; none had seen such numbers employed or such casualties on such a restricted area.”

“The bridge over the Kolotscha, situated just behind Borodino, was the scene of a bloody struggle on the 7th.”

The Bridge Over the Kolotscha,
Near Borodino Village,
17 September
by Faber du Faur

“The battle had opened with the seizure of Borodino village.  The 106th Line Regiment had been ordered to storm the village.  Having done so, they charged on over the bridge, towards the Gorki heights.  There, met by superior numbers, and confronted by a murderous fire from Russian entrenchments, they were thrown back to the bridge, having sustained terrible casualties.  The 92nd Line were rushed to their support, saving the bridge from destruction.”

“During the battle the bridge had been cleared by throwing any corpses into the river.  I saw that few now remained, hinting lightly at the terrible struggle that had taken place at this bridge over the Kolotscha.”

Eleven days after the bloody battle we marched over the corpse-strewn field.  Here the most horrific scenes lie far away in the distance and silence shrouds the countryside round about, for the angel of death had stalked this land.”

Behind the Village of Borodino,
By the Main Road to Moscow,
17 September
by Faber du Faur

“Those who fought at Borodino will recognize the picture, drawn from the main Moscow road and looking back on the scene of destruction.  On the right, in the valley where the Slonetz meets the Kolotscha, is Borodino village, the dome of its church looking down sadly on the ruins of Semenovskii to the left.  It was here, between these two points, that the battle was fought; the fight was bitter but our troops were ultimately victorious.”

Note that in the images above, all of the bodies have bare feet.  By now, having marched hundreds of miles across Europe, shoes were in short supply.   Aubin Dutheillet, a 21-year-old lieutenant with the 57th Line Regiment of I Corps wrote that during the battle, “General Teste’s ADC suffered the same fate [killed]; and by this time I was so short of footwear I stripped the unfortunate ADC, still not cold, of the boots he had on his feet to put them on my own!”


With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Faber du Faur, Edited by Jonathan North

1812: Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, Paul Britten Austin, p. 275

Moscow Burns

In Alan Palmer’s book: Napoleon in Russia, he recounts how General Philippe Paul de Ségur entered Moscow to prepare the Kremlin to receive Napoleon.  He tried to sleep in an armchair, but around midnight, got up and looked out a window and saw: “Some distance away, in whatever direction I looked, there were flames leaping up.”

Moscow Burning

Sergeant Bourgogne with the Imperial Guard was with some of the first troops to enter the city.  In order to prevent looting, they were not allowed to leave the Kremlin square when dismissed.  Bourgogne said: “We went to the houses in the square to ask for food and drink, but as we found nobody in them we helped ourselves.”  The same thing was going on all over Moscow.

Shooting Arsonists
Commemorative 1912 Russian
Candy Box Card

The commander of the Guard sent Bourgogne and his men off in search of pumps and hoses to fight the flames (they had all been destroyed by the Russians).  Men with torches were passing them by, but they were allowed to pass unchallenged.  His patrol eventually did round up some incendiaries, but Bourgogne himself allowed three to escape.

Russian Incendiaries

One of the escapes happened in this way:  Bourgogne’s men had rounded up 32 prisoners and he was in command of the rear guard.  As they went, he noticed one crying like a child, and saying repeatedly “Mon Dieu! I have lost my wife and son in the fire!”

The man turned out to be from Switzerland and had been working as a French and German tutor in Moscow.  Bourgogne felt sorry for the man and offered to help him look for his family.  The man recognized his house by the large stove standing in the burned wreckage.  The column stopped at this time due to the street being blocked by flames.  The man soon found his wife and son, both dead in the cellar of the house.

Napoleon in Russia, Alan Palmer

Image and translation of commemorative 1912 Russian candy box card provided by Alexey Temnikov

The French are Coming! Hide the Furniture!

This account is from a woman who worked in a prince’s house in Moscow.  Just prior to the arrival of the French, they had the idea of dividing a “…store-room with a stone wall, seeing that we had our own stove-makers and that bricks for the alteration were lying in the yard.  The wall was begun, and all the family’s trunks, boxes of crockery, linen, and different things – everything imaginable! – were dragged there.  All our belongings were put on tip, and the wall rose higher and higher.  From above they had already started to throw feather beds and pillows from the whole house.  when the wall was finished, all but the last two feet, a man we knew suddenly looked into our store-room from the neighbouring yard and began to entreat us to let him hide his property there as well.  All kinds of trash was brought.  It wouldn’t have been worth hiding, but you know nobody wants to part with his own, and you have to help people in trouble.”

“The wall was built up to its full height and partly plastered, otherwise it would have been as clear as daylight to anybody that it was new.  They dragged all the shabbier stuff to the front of the store-room and crammed it full.  ‘Smash it, carry it off, if you like.  You won’t get very rich on it, you cursed Frenchmen.'”

Major Jean-François Boulart, Major of the Guard Artillery,  had this discovery at the house he occupied in Moscow: “We had no linen and very little crockery, but at the servant’s suggestion I had a hole made in a freshly plastered wall and behind it we found prodigious quantities of china, glasses, kitchen utensils, vinegar and mustard, the best China tea and some table linen.  In another corner, also walled up, I found a fine library.  I shared my riches with my comrades and even some generals.  My house became the meeting place for those less fortunate than ourselves who loved good meat and wine.  Yet the days passed drearily.  We had no other sources of distraction then our libraries, and no one is really tempted to read books who has such reasons for disquietude as we had.”

1812: Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia; Antony Brett-James, p. 151

1812: Napoleon in Moscow; Paul Britten Austin, p. 81


Arriving at the Walls of Moscow

Napoleon Near Moscow
by Valili Vereshchagin

On the 14th of September, 1812, Napoleon’s army arrived at the gates of their destination: Moscow.  Sergeant Bourgogne of the Imperial Guard recorded his impressions in his memoirs: “At one o’clock in the afternoon of September 14th, after passing through a great forest, we saw a hill some way off, and half an hour afterwards part of the army reached the highest point, signaling to us who were behind, and shouting ‘Moscow! Moscow!’  It was indeed the great city; there we should rest after all our labours, for we of the Imperial Guard had marched more than twelve hundred leagues without resting.”
It was a beautiful summer’s day; the sun was reflected on all the domes, spires, and gilded palaces.  Many capitals I have seen – such as Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Vienna, and Madrid – had only produced an ordinary impression on me.  But this was quite different; the effect was to me – in fact, to everyone – magical.”

The Arrival at Moscow
by Laslett John Pott

Jakob Walter describes his approach and entry into the city (probably on the 15th): “On the march into the city or rather on the march toward it, from a hill in a forest an hour and a half away, we saw the huge city lying before us.  Clouds of fire, red smoke, great gilded crosses of the church towers glittered, shimmered, and billowed up toward us from the city.  This holy city was like the desecration of the city of Jerusalem… Farther inward toward the city was a wide plain… As we marched through, I observed as much as I could: there were broad streets, long straight alleys, tall buildings massively built of brick, church towers with burned roofs and half-melted bells, and copper roofs which had rolled from the buildings; everything was uninhabited and uninhabitable.”