“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

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