Daily Archives: November 12, 2012

The Twenty-Eighth Bulletin

Napoleon issued periodic progress reports in numbered bulletins.  Number 28 was issued on November 12, 1812 from Smolensk.  It began as follows: “The Imperial headquarters were, on 1 November, at Viasma, and on the 9th at Smolensk.  The weather was very fine up to the 6th, but on the 7th winter began; the ground is covered with snow.  The roads have become very slippery, and very difficult for carriage horses.  We have lost many men by cold and fatigue; night bivouacking is very injurious to them.”

“Since the battle of Maloyaroslavetz, the advanced guard has seen no other enemy than the Cossacks, who like the Arabs, prowl upon the flanks and fly about to annoy.”

The bulletin goes on to note that since the bad weather started on the 6th, more than 3,000 carriage horses and 100 caissons had been lost.

Philippe-Paul de Ségur described the scene when the stragglers were turned away from the store houses because they were not with their regiments:  “So these men scattered through the streets, their only hope now being in pillage.  But the carcasses of horses cleaned of meat down to the bone lying everywhere indicated the presence of famine.  The doors and windows had been torn out of all the houses as fuel for the campfires, so the men found no shelter there.  No winter quarters had been prepared, no wood provided.  The sick and wounded were left out in the streets on the carts that had brought them in.  Once again the deadly highroad was passing through an empty name!  Here was one more bivouac among deceptive ruins, colder even than the forests the men had just left.”

“Finally these disorganized troops sought out their regiments and rejoined them momentarily in order to obtain their rations.  But all the bread… had already been distributed, as had the biscuits and meat.  Rye flour, dry vegetables, and brandy were measured out to them.  The best efforts of the guards were needed to prevent the detachments of the different corps from killing each other around the doors of the storehouses.  When after interminable formalities the wretched fare was delivered to them, the soldiers refused to carry it back to their regiments.  They broke open the the sacks, snatched a few pounds of flour out of them, and went into hiding until they had devoured it.  It was the same with brandy.  The next day the houses were found full of the corpses of these unfortunate warriors.”

Source:
Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, Philippe-Paul de Ségur, p 183

Jakob Walter tries to enter Smolensk

Jakob Walter‘s regiment  had difficulty gaining entrance to the city as described in Sgt. Bourgogne’s account.  Walter arrived on November 12 still riding his horse drawn sled.

“When I arrived at Smolensk, it was raining rather heavily, and my sled could be pulled only with great effort.  When I came toward the city, the crowd was so dense that for hours I could not penetrate into the column, for the guard [i.e., Imperial Guard] and the artillery with the help of the gendarmes knocked everyone out of the way, right and left.  With effort I finally pressed through, holding my horse by the head, and accompanied by sword blows I passed over the bridge.  In front of the city gate I and my regiment, now disorganized, moved to the right toward the city wall beside the Dnieper River.  Here we settled down and had to camp for two days.  As had been reported to us beforehand, we were to engage in battle with the enemy here and also to get bread and flour from the warehouses.  Neither of the two reports, however, proved to be true. The distress mounted higher and higher, and horses were shot and eaten.  Because I could not get even a piece of meat and my hunger became too violent, I took along the pot I carried, stationed myself beside a horse that was being shot, and caught up the blood from its breast.  I set this blood on the fire, let it coagulate, and ate the lumps without salt.”

Source:
The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, Jakob Walter, p 67

“That Day Will Be Remembered Forever” A Re-enactor’s Story of Borodino

Alexey Temnikov, a re-enactor with the French 5th Cuirassiers, recently participated in the 200th anniversary of the battle of Borodino.  I met Alexey through Facebook and he has been extremely generous with his time and talents in translating Russian for me, sharing photos and images depicting the period as well as providing the information for this blog post about the re-enactment at Borodino.

Alexey Temnikov at Borodino
2012

2012 is the 200th anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812 when the Russians defeated Napoleon.  Many re-enactments of battles from that year have taken place (Smolensk, Pavlovsky Posad, Tarutino and Maloyaroslavets) and another yet to come (Berezina).  In addition there have been exhibitions, festivals and concerts.  New movies have been filmed and small battles have been staged even in places Napoleon did not go such as Krasnoyarsk.  But the biggest event of all was the re-construction of the battle of Borodino held in early September.

The 5th Regiment of Cuirassiers Salute
The Emperor

Alexey became interested in the Napoleonic period when his parents gave him a copy of In the Terrible Time by Mikhail Bragin as a birthday present.  He sought out and watched the movies War and Peace and Waterloo and was hooked.  An admirer of horses and a rider from a young age, only the hussars would do when Alexey decided to join a re-enactment regiment in 1992.  He remembers calculating how old he would be at the 200th of Borodino.  Originally, he joined the Russian cuirassiers wearing the uniforms of the Military Order of St. George.  In 2002, however, his career called and he left re-enacting.  After a visit to Borodino, Alexey returned to the hobby in 2010, this time as a member of the 5th Regiment of Cuirassiers of Napoleon’s army, a unit where he had many friends.  As an added benefit, he was able to do some re-enactments with his son, Andrew.

To stage a re-enactment of Borodino required much planning.  An event of this significance attracted thousands of re-enactors from around the world: The United States, Canada, Europe and all over Russia.  There were problems with visas and permission to bring weapons into the country.  Horses that used to rent for $100 per day now had a going rate of $170.  Tents had to be found for the participants from abroad.  Organizers bought firewood, straw and hay, and brought in toilets as well as bathing and drinking water.  Fellow re-enactors stepped forward to help provide what the organizers could not, such as warm clothes, hot food and beverages to keep their guests warm.  Some of these re-enactors arrived 10 – 15 days ahead of the anniversary.  Regiments cooked their own food leading up to the event when organizers fed them for the last two days.

President Vladimir Putin
Inspects a Soldier

On the day of the event, September 2, there were ceremonies to honor the fallen of 200 years ago.  The Russian ceremony was on the Rayevski battery at the Great Redoubt.  The French ceremony was held at the monument for the Fallen of the Grande Armée.  Russian President Vladimir Putin represented Russia while former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing represented France.  In the soldiers’ camp, Alexey’s 5th Regiment of Cuirassiers held their own ceremony honoring members who had passed away.  They made a display of photos of these fallen comrades who were unable to be there on that special day.

The logistics of accommodating the crowd and preparing for the visit of President Putin were enormous.  Security forces examined the entire area of the re-enactment and uncovered 32 kilograms of explosives from WWII.  Roads were blocked by the police and tourists had to walk as far as eight kilometers to the site.

It Began to Rain
Near the End of the Battle

The battle was re-enacted in three stages: the battle for the town of Borodino and the crossing of the Koloch river, the attack on the village of Semenovskaya, and the assault on the Great Redoubt.  Rain began to fall as the two hour re-enactment came to an end with many horses falling on the wet grass.

Mikhail Kutuzov at Borodino 2012
Portrayed by Pavel Timofeev

The crowd was ecstatic with the appearance of Mark Schneider and Pavel Timofeev portraying Emperor Napoleon and General Mikhail Kutuzov, respectively.  Alexey said having them there added beauty to the battle.

Alexey summed his experience up as follows: “Borodino has an extraordinary aura, a kind of energy.  It is hard to describe, but one can feel it.  In the evening fog as if the shadows of the fallen, one cannot help thinking – I am not a coward, but how can I go into battle and kill people with my sword and trample them with my horse?  I fall asleep to the sounds of the camp and the neighing of the horses.  For all of us, all of Russia and all of the visitors – that day will be remembered forever.”

Blogger’s Note –

I (Scott Armstrong) grew up doing American Revolutionary War re-enacting with my family so I have a particular interest in the re-enacting aspect.  Our Borodino was the siege of Yorktown, which led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’ army, and eventually, to the end of the war which gave America her independence.  I was fortunate enough to attend the 200th anniversary of that event with my father in 1981 and the 225th in 2006, this time with my own family as well as my father.

Re-enactment at Yorktown 1981
Scott Armstrong is on the very far right (1/2 cut off),
back to the camera, wearing a green coat.
His Father, Jack Armstrong, is third from the right
wearing a brown coat, back to the camera

As I look at the photos and hear the stories about re-enacting the Napoleonic period, I am reminded of how much it looks like American Revolutionary War re-enacting here in the United States (although the Napoleonic re-enactors have better uniforms and more horses).  During the US Bicentennial, my father and I spent many weekends traveling to re-enact on the various 200th anniversaries of battles of the American War for Independence.  Growing up outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we were centrally located for events from Quebec, Canada to Savannah, Georgia.  We even did re-enacting in France and later in England.

We are both still members of the Ist Continental Regiment from Pennsylvania.  Growing up as a re-enactor gave me many unforgettable experiences: Parades in Philadelphia, New York City, and Paris (on the Champs Elysée), serving as an honor guard for a former US President (Ford), a battle at Dover castle in England, travelling in National Guard army trucks and, of course, participating in many battle re-enactments.

There were also other benefits to this hobby.  All of those hours spent in the car with my father gave us much time to talk and be together.  I also met my wife through re-enacting when she and her father joined our regiment.  We became engaged at a re-enactment in Colonial Williamsburg and have since attended many re-enactments with our own family. ~ Scott Armstrong

Disorder in Smolensk

As the army straggled west, the men set their sights on Smolensk as their salvation.  They believed they would find food, shelter and safety.  Smolensk was the city the Grande Armée had assaulted back in August with the end result that it had burned during the night.  On the retreat, the army arrived from November 9th through the 12th.

Major von Lossberg of Westphalia described the scenes in Smolensk to his wife in a letter dated November 12: “Had order prevailed in Smolensk when all the corps were allowed into the town, the Army, as I saw to my own satisfaction in several magazines, would have found enough flour and fodder for a fortnight; but the right of the strongest often dislocated the distribution queue and anyone who failed to stand firm received nothing.  If proper measures had been taken there should have been no shortage of meat either, since 1,000 cattle fell into the hands of the Cossacks not far from the town, and these could well have been protected.”

“…I cannot leave Smolensk without mentioning a regular fair which I found in the square where stood the magazines that issued rations.  Hundreds of soldiers, most o them from the French Guard, were dealing in plunder they had obtained during the campaign, particularly in Moscow, and this largely comprised clothing, women’s shawls, and scarves of all kinds, as well as articles stolen from churches. A non-commissioned officer in a green uniform – from his looks and manner of talking French he was probably Italian – asked 2,000 francs of me for a church ornament which, if he was speaking the truth (he talked with great knowledge about diamonds and explained the value of the different stones), was worth at least ten times that price.  The throng of soldiers of all nationalities – they included many buyers too – was so great that one had difficulty in making one’s way forward.  For twenty francs I bought a yellow-brown beaver cloak with a double collar, and this I put on straight away…  I bought half a pound of coffee for a five-franc piece.”

Source:
1812: Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia, Antony Brett-James, p 232

“We Thought of Ourselves Alone”

Faber du Faur with the IIIrd Corps arrived in Smolensk on the 12th of November.  He writes about the effect of the disappointment at the lack of supplies to be found there.

In the Suburbs of Smolensk,
On the Right Bank of the Borysthene,
12 November
by Faber du Faur

In the Suburbs of Smolensk, On the Right Bank of the Borysthene
“We arrived at Smolensk after twenty days’ marching.  We had marched through this town in triumph only two and a half months before, but now we entered it covered in rags.  We had redoubled our efforts to reach this place, bourne by hope of rest and succor   But our illusions were soon shattered.  There was no food, no clothing – not even a shelter from the rigors of the cold.  Here the final binds of order and discipline were cast aside; from now on we thought of ourselves alone and sought to prolong our own existence.”

“At Smolensk we broke up the last of our gun carriages, dragged there with so much effort.  We threw the barrels into the Dnieper.  Imagine the despair of the poor gunner who, having sworn to remain true to his gun, now has to cast it aside having survived together through so many hazards of war.”

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