Daily Archives: September 14, 2012

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.”