Daily Archives: November 8, 2012

“Oh, Cruel Torture!”

Faber du Faur painted a scene of Napoleon dated November 8.  He wonders what the Emperor must be thinking as he watches his ruined army file past.

On the Road, Not Far From Pneva,
8 November
by Faber du Faur

On the Road, Not Far From Pneva, 8 November

“From Mikalevka, where we spent the night, the retreat continued the following day.  The brilliant army that had crossed the Niemen would scarcely recognize itself now.  The cold had deprived us of our brilliance and our clothes were as those of a sorry troop of adventurers.  The man on the left, the most brilliant captain, seems oblivious to the group warming their hands by a fire fed by broken wheels and gun carriages. Behind them stand the ordnance officers, ready for the least signal.  Do you recognize the man dressed in the simple grey overcoat?  The man who led us so often in battle and to victory now partially disguised in a fur cap?  It is the Emperor.  Who knows what must be going through his mind as his pitiful army files past?  His enemies have insulted him and tarnished his glory.  Oh, cruel torture!  But those who cast their eyes on fallen grandeur momentarily forget their own suffering, and thus it was that we filed past in mournful silence, partially reconciled to our terrible fate.”

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

Jakob Walter is Robbed of his Bread

Early in the retreat, Jakob Walter was invited to attach himself to a major as an attendant.  Somehow he became separated from the major after a few days.  Walter managed to secure a horse and then took a small sled from a peasant.  After fashioning a harness from a sack and two ropes, he rode the sled “…through the burned cities of Viasma, Semlevo, and Dorogobush without finding my master.  Once, while I was eating some of my aforementioned bread, several Frenchmen saw me.  These inhuman men surrounded me with the pretext of buying bread; and, when the word ‘bread’ was mentioned, everyone bolted at me, so that I thought my death was near; but through an extraordinary chance there came along some Germans, whom I now called to my aid.  They struck at my horse so that most of the Frenchmen fell back from me and then were entirely beaten off.”

“Among these Germans were two sergeants from my regiment called N. and N.  After I was free, they took my bread and walked away.  Not they, I could see now, but rather their hunger and my bread were both my redeemers and, at the same time, my robbers.  Although I had already given them a loaf, they robbed me!  But this, my dear readers, is to be judged otherwise than you think.  There are stories in which people have murdered and eaten each other on account of hunger, but certainly this incident was still a long way from murder.  Since starvation had risen to a high degree, why could not such a thing happen?  And, besides that, much of the humanity of man had already vanished because of hunger.”

The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, Jakob Walter, pp 65 – 66