General Wilson continues his observations about the retreat after the first snow fall of early November. “At Viazma, fifty French, by a savage order, were burned alive. In another village fifty men had been buried alive; but these terrible acts of ferocity were minor features – they ended in death with comparitively little protracted suffering. Here death, so much invited, so solicited as a friend, came with dilatory step; but still he came without interval of torturing pause.”
“I will cite three or four of the most painful indcidents that I witnessed.
1. A number of naked men, whose backs had been frozen while they warmed the front of their bodies, sat round the burning embers of a hut. Sensible at last to the chill of the air, they had succeeded in turning themselves, when the fire caught the congealed flesh, and a hard burnt crust covered the whole of their backs. The wretches were still living as I passed.
2. Sixty dying naked men, whose necks were laid upon a felled tree, while Russian men and women with large faggot-sticks, singing in chorus and hopping round, with repeated blows struck out their brains in succession.
3. A group of wounded men, at the ashes of another cottage, sitting and lying over the body of a comrade which they had roasted, and the flesh of which they had begun to eat.
4. A French woman, naked to her chemise, with black, long, dishevelled hair, sitting on the snow, where she had remained the whole day and in that situation had been delivered of a child, which had afterwards been stolen from her. This was the extreme of mental anguish and bodily suffering.
I could cite a variety of other sad and sorry calamities, but the very recollection is loathsome.”
1812: Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia, Antony Brett-James, p 222