“A Certain Feeling of Sadness is Hanging Over the Army”

October 22, 1812 was the fourth day of the march from Moscow.  Some had not yet begun to call it a “retreat,” but continued thinking of it as an “advance to winter quarters.”  I know I have posted a number of accounts about the appearance of the column, but I would like to add Philippe-Paul de Ségur’s account.

“Napoleon had entered Moscow with ninety thousand combatants and twenty thousand sick and wounded.  He went out of it with more than a hundred thousand combatants…”

“A sorry spectacle added to his gloomy foreboding.  Since the evening before, the army had been marching out of Moscow without interruption.  In this column of a hundred and forty thousand human beings and fifty thousand horses, a hundred thousand, marching at the head with their knapsacks and arms, with some five hundred cannon and two thousand artillery wagons, still bore some resemblance to the tremendous military organization which had conquered the world.  But the rest – a frightening proportion of the whole – looked like a horde of Tartars after a successful raid: a jumble of carriages, wagons, rich coaches, and carts of all sorts, four or five abreast, and seeming to stretch on forever.  Here were the trophies – Russian, Turkish, and Persian flags – and the gigantic cross of Ivan the Great; there, a flock of long-bearded Russian peasants driving or carrying our plunder, of which they were a part, and soldiers wheeling barrows loaded with everything they had been able to pile on them.  These foolish creatures would not be able to hold out to the end of the first day, but their senseless greed had closed their eyes to the fact that two thousand miles and many battles lay between them and their destination.”

“One could have taken it for a caravan, a nomadic horde, or one of those armies of antiquity laden with spoils and slaves, returning from some dreadful destruction.  It was inconceivable that the head of this column could drag along after them such a mass of vehicles and baggage for so long a distance.”

On October 22nd, it begins to rain and the thousands of vehicles and marching feet turn the roads into mud.  Alexandre Bellot de Kergorre of the Imperial Headquarters staff observes, “Making our way across ploughed land and not everyone being well harnessed up, some 1,500 vehicles had to be abandoned…  We set fire to at least 20,000 sutlers’ vehicles and others overloaded with sugar, coffee, etc., which were encumbering the road and hindering our passage.”

The sound of “artillery wagons being blown up, for lack of horses to pull them.  The further we advanced the more frequent these explosions became.”

“At each bridge there are blockages, of men, horses and baggage.  Most of these bridges are narrow, hardly solid.  Often they sag under the vehicles’ weight.”

Césare de Laugier records, “a certain feeling of sadness is hanging over the army.”

Sources:
Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, Phillippe-Paul de Ségur, 135 -136

1812 Napoleon in Moscow, Paul Britten Austin, pp 196-197

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