Daily Archives: October 20, 2012

One man’s knapsack

One of the better known participants in the retreat was Sergeant Adrien Bourgogne of the Imperial Guard who published his detailed memoirs.  On the second day of the march (October 20, 1812), he “…examin[ed].. my knapsack, which seemed too heavy.  I found several pounds of sugar, some rice, some biscuit, half a bottle of liqueur, a woman’s Chinese silk dress embroidered in gold and silver, several gold and silver ornaments, amongst them a little bit of the cross of Ivan the Great — at least, a piece of the outer covering of silver gilt, given me by a man in the company who had helped in taking it down.  Besides these, I had my uniform, a woman’s large riding-cloak … then two silver pictures in relief, a foot long and eight inches high; one of them represented the judgement of Paris on Mount Ida, the other showed Neptune on a chariot formed by a shell and drawn by sea-horses, all in the finest workmanship.  I had, besides, several lockets and a Russian Prince’s spittoon set with brilliants.  These things were intended for presents, and had been found in cellars where the houses were burnt down.”

“No wonder the knapsack was so weighty!  to lighten it therefore, I left out my white trousers, feeling pretty certain I should not want them again just yet.  I wore over my shirt a yellow silk waistcoat, wadded inside, which I had made myself out of a woman’s skirt;  above that a large cape lined with ermine, and a large pouch hung at my side, underneath the cape, by a silver cord.  This was full of various things — amongst them, a crucifix in gold and silver; and a little Chinese porcelain vase.  These objects seemed to have escaped the general ruin by a sort of miracle, and I still keep them as relics.”


Sergeant Bourgogne: With Napoleon’s Imperial Guard in the Russian Campaign and on the Retreat from Moscow 1812-13, by Adrien Bourgogne, pp 61-62