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