Faber du Faur’s painting depicting the scene on December 4 shows a small band defending itself from attack while stealing the blanket from a wounded man. In the background, some troops are forming a line of skirmish.
Near Oschimany, 4 December
“The cold was getting worse and we were losing more and more men and horses. Many soldiers who had survived numerous campaigns and suffering of every description now succumbed to the cold. As we headed for Vilna we were reinforced by depots and reserves. But it was all for nothing: their support was transient and served only to augment our casualties. Thrust from their comfortable quarters, most of these young troops, many of whom had only been in the army six months, perished during their first night in the open,”
“The army dragged itself forward, littering the road with its dead, dying and deranged. We were constantly harassed by bands of Cossacks, greedy for booty, who threw themselves on stragglers or small detachments. In order to beat off such attacks, armed men gathered in bands and there were running battles in the snow with a few pieces of artillery, dragged all this way without horses, firing their final discharges in Russia.”
“Mixed in with such bravery was, however, as much cruelty and a revolting selfishness. The strongest pillaged the weakest, the sick were stripped of their clothing and the dying were robbed of their clothes and left to die in the deep snow. An instinct for self-preservation had snuffed out all traces of humanity in the human heart.”
With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur, 1812, edited by Jonathan North
Commemorative 1912 candy box card image and translation provided by Alexey Temnikov