Daily Archives: December 7, 2012

“That Hope was to be Cruelly Misplaced”

I will post Faber du Faur’s description that accompanies his painting of the Lichtenstein Café in two parts as some of the description pertains to the events of the 9th of December.

The Lichtenstein Cafe7 Decemberby Faber du Faur

The Lichtenstein Café
7 December
by Faber du Faur

The Lichtenstein Café, 7 December
“We finally reached Vilna, which, like Smolensk before it, was the goal of all those who had survived the disaster to date.  Vilna was inhabited, had well-stocked magazines, and could boast of food and other kinds of luxury – indeed, all the things we had done without since leaving Moscow.  Each and every soldier had been borne along by the hope of reaching Vilna, but that hope was to be cruelly misplaced.  Vilna was nothing more than the tomb of thousands, and those that survived were soon forced out, just as at Smolensk.”

“The most fortunate arrived before the bulk of the army reached the town.  They found themselves quarters, food and other essentials.  Some officers of the 25th Division were, luckily, numbered among this group, reached the town before the army and eagerly sought out the Lichtenstein Café.  This establishment became our headquarters, and all surviving officers of the Division made their way there, even those who only made it on the 9th.”

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

“The Most Terrible Day of my Life”

General Armand de Caulaincourt wrote about Napoleon’s arrival in Kovno on December 7, 1812: “I never remember such cold as we suffered from between

Lancers of the Guard Escorting Napoleon

Lancers of the Guard Escorting Napoleon

Vilna and Kovno.  The thermometer had passed twenty degrees.  Although the Emperor was wrapped in wool and covered with a good fur, with his legs in fur boots and then inside a bearskin bag, he complained so much that I had to cover him with half my bearskin rug.  Our breath froze on our lips, our eyebrows, and round our eyelids. All the cloth in the carriage, and particularly the hood where our breath rose, was white and hard.  When we reached Kovno, the Emperor was shivering; one would have thought he had an attack of the ague.”

Retreat - Snow - rider leaving his horse behindGeneral Count Wilhelm Hochberg, commander of a unit of IX Corps wrote of the 7th: “The most terrible day of my life.  There were 30 degrees of frost.  I could only assemble 50 of my men; the others, 200 to 300 of them, lay on the ground, frozen.  The last remains of IX Corps were annihilated.  Doumerc’s cavalry, which had made up the extreme rearguard, was destroyed, it too, during that unhappy night of 6/7 December.”

Sources:
1812 Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia, Compiled, edited and translated by Antony Brett-James, p 267

1812: The Great Retreat, Paul Britten Austin, pp .55 – 356