Category Archives: The Advance into Russia

Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia

Napoleon at Borodino 2012

Today we have the ultimate guest blog post.  While Napoleon himself has long since passed on, he is ably represented in our time by Mark Schneider who has portrayed Napoleon at events around the world since 2005.  As you can tell from the photos and the story below, Napoleon is fortunate to have Mark carry on his legacy.

Because this blog is about the experiences of the soldiers on the Russian campaign, I asked Mark if he would be willing to write about his thoughts and experiences during the re-enactment marking the 200th anniversary of the battle of Borodino (la Moskova).  He readily agreed and here is the result.

Mark Schneider as Napoleon
Borodino 2012

When I look back at the great experiences that I have had portraying Napoleon since 2005, one of the great highlights will certainly have to be “La Bataille de la Moskova.” My name is Mark Schneider and I have had the great honor and pleasure to portray Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe since 2005. My first event was Waterloo and the experience has changed my life forever. Since that fateful afternoon in June, 2005, I have also had the honor to portray Napoleon at the 200th anniversary of Austerlitz (2005,), Jena (2006,) Berlin (2006,) Erfurt (2008,) and many other anniversary events such as Hollabrunn (2006-7,) Mormant (2007,) Borodino (2007,) Waterloo (2008,) Austerlitz (2007,8,11,) Sarzana (2011,) Jena (2011,) and now the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino!

Appearing as Napoleon at the 195th anniversary of Borodino gave me a taste of what it was going to be like in 2012. The battlefield was truly amazing to behold. The museum of Borodino was also quite magnificent with such items as Kutuzov’s carriage, uniforms and sadly even a French Eagle as well as many cannons. I was given a tour of many portions of the battlefield that I had read about since I was a child in David Chandler’s “Campaigns Of Napoleon” as well as de Ségur’s “Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, Paul Britten Austin’s “1812-Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia,” and Caulaincourt’s “With Napoleon in Russia.” It was one thing to read about this battlefield and quite another to walk or ride upon it! All of this was a great introduction to the huge anniversary event that would take place 5 years later.

I was asked to attend the 200th anniversary event of Borodino over a year before it took place. My host was Alexander Valkovitch, a great historian and friend who has participated in many events with me to include Hollabrunn and Erfurt as Czar Alexander I. When all of the planning and organizing was complete, I received the official invitation. I was most excited to attend this great event that would commemorate the bloodiest single day in the Napoleonic Wars. Well, just as Napoleon had a long way to go in the campaign before Borodino was fought, so I too had a long way to go before I finally received my VISA! Once in my hand I was off to Moscow! It was a long journey, just as it was a long journey for the Grande Armee. Upon arrival, I then had to drive the 150KM south-west to the battlefield, and though I was not harassed by cossacks, there was a tremendous amount of Russian vehicle traffic on the highway. Upon arrival, I discovered that it was all worth it because I was about to participate in one of the most amazing events in re-enacting history.

Preparing the Meal

I arrived just as the sun was going down and our driver was kind enough to point out some of the monuments on the way. When we finally pulled into the camp site it was quite a sight to behold. The hundreds of tents and horses and cannons and soldiers walking about certainly made me feel as if I had returned back to September of 1812. I met my host Alexander Valkovitch and some other old friends from past events, and we enjoyed a late dinner and spoke of the battle and the days to come. I would turn in at a rather early hour of 11 pm and my accommodations would not be a tent but rather a former Soviet school! Just for one night though for the next night would be in the field.

Re-enactors’ Camp at Borodino 2012

After a restful night’s sleep, I donned my Chasseur a Cheval de la Garde Imperiale habit, and began the event. A quick Russian breakfast, a few press interviews and I was off to the cavalry camp where I would find my horse and my escort of the Chasseurs a Cheval commanded by my friend Capitaine Jean-Francois Remy Neris. At the cavalry camp there were many of my old friends waiting and it was truly a delight to see them. The sun was shining and all was well. I mounted my gray horse “Tauris” and went to the battlefield to review the Army. It was truly amazing to see so many beautiful units in attendance! Infantry, artillery and so many cavalry! Cuirassiers, Carabiniers, hussars, lancers, Chasseurs, Grenadiers a cheval and more! Truly a sight to see.

The Saturday event was basically a rehearsal for the main event on Sunday. We spent many hours in the saddle upon the battlefield watching the two great armies maneuver, fire, charge, get used to their mounts and prepare for the big day. As the day began to end, we marched back to the cavalry camp where we would rest for the night.

Mark Schneider as Napoleon and
former French President
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing

The next morning found the weather cloudy, cool and rainy. The Grande Armee was to participate in a ceremony by the one monument on the Borodino battlefield that honored the Grande Armee. In attendance was former President of the French Republic, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. He gave a very moving speech honoring all the soldiers that had died, and then I had the honor to meet with him and shake his hand.

When the ceremony was over, the rain was falling, but the battle had to go on! 200,000 people were expected to attend, rain or shine. We had time for a quick lunch and then it was back in the saddle and on to the battlefield.

Mark Schneider as Napoleon
Acknowledges the Crowd

To say that it was amazing is an understatement! At the head of the Etat-Major and the cavalry we marched out of the woods on to the field. What a spectacle! Thousands of soldiers and 200,000 people! We took up our positions and the battle began. Though there was a drizzle, I think it added to the atmosphere. When the cannons and the muskets began firing it obscured portions of the battlefield so at certain moments you could not see the crowd

The Semenovskaya phase
of the re-enactment

and only the soldiers on the field. It was as if September 7th 1812 had returned! From my position on the hill I could observe the entire field. I rode past the army to give them some encouragement, and then the onslaught began. The Great Redoubt had to be taken! The cannons roared, the cavalry charged, occasionally with riders tumbling off their mounts! Fortunately there were no serious injuries. As all this was going on, a narrator was giving a play by play of what was happening. As the battle continued, I left the safety of my ridge, with the Imperial Guard close at

Marshal Michel Ney
Portrayed by Franky Simon

hand and decided to take a closer look at the action. Marshal Ney rode up to me and said that the victory was ours if we would only commit the Guard, but I simply could not commit my last reserves so far from home. Victory would have to come with the men already engaged. I sent him back into the fray. The commander of my escort cautioned me that it was dangerous for the Emperor to be so close to the action, and he was right! Soon a Regiment of Cossacks was on us, galloping straight for me! My Chasseurs jumped into action and saved me, giving me time to place myself behind my beloved Guard. The battle began to come to an end. Just as the brave soldiers of the Grande Armée as well as the Russian Army fought to exhaustion that fateful day, so did the brave re-enactors. The time had come to end this great spectacle. The armies formed up in front of the thousands of spectators who had weathered the rain and cold . We galloped past them half a dozen times saluting them as well as the brave combatants. It was a moment I will never forget.

Traffic at the Re-enactment
of Borodino 2012

The armies then began to march off, and I, still escorted by my faithful Chasseurs a cheval, began my ride back to the cavalry camp. Upon arrival I thanked my horse for bringing me safely through this weekend spectacular. I had a brief rest with my comrades, but soon it was time for me to go. After one last goodbye and thank you to my host Alexander Valkovitch, I had to get back on the road to the airport in Moscow. 200,000 people would be joining me, so a trip that would normally take one and half hours, now took five! It was worth it!

Vive l’Empereur!

I will never forget this amazing event at Borodino. It was truly a dream come true for me. I have been interested in Napoleon and his times since I was a little boy and dreamed of fighting in his battles. Well now that dream has come true. More than all of that, it was an honor to take part in an event that honored all of the soldiers that fought and died that day. I hope that by remembering and reenacting such a great event in history and all the sacrifices that were made, no one will ever forget.

Mark Schneider
“NAPOLEON”

Blogger’s Note:  Thank you Mark for this terrific post!  ~ Scott Armstrong

“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

Monuments at Borodino

I recently saw some photos taken on the field at Borodino by Elena Khonineva who was part of a tour group in July of this year.  With Elena’s permission, I am glad to share them here.

A Grateful Russia
to its Defenders

This monument was built in 1912, destroyed in the 1920’s and rebuilt in 1995.  The architect was S. K. Rodionov.

Kutusov Monument at Gorski

Monument Chief of the Russian armies, MI Golenishchev-Kutuzov at the command post of the commander.  Built in 1912 by the military engineer PA Vorontsov – Sonya.  Located on a hill in the center of the village of Gorki on the main observation post commander. From the top of the hill is easily visible position of the Russian troops in the day of battle.

The obelisk is red granite topped bronze soaring eagle, holding in its claws gilded laurel wreath – a symbol of victory. On the front edge gold bright sword, aiming point up – terrible warning to the conquerors. Below – a niche with a bronze bas-relief, which depicts MI Kutuzov

Plaque from the base
of the Kutusov monument

issuing commands. Above the bas – words from the report of the commander Alexander I of the results of the battle of Borodino, “The enemy is reflected in all areas.” On the back side of the monument text: “From Field Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev – Kutuzov led troops in battle at p. Borodino August 26, 1812. ”

Monument to the French

 

This monument near Shevardino redoubt was made in 1913 on the site of Napoleon’s command post on the day of the Battle of Borodino. P.P.Besvilvalde architect. The monument was created, brought and placed on the French, with the consent of the Russian government in memory of the Napoleonic soldiers, officers and generals who were killed at Borodino on September 5-7 1812.

Monument to
3rd Infantry Division

The monument to the 3rd Infantry Division of General P.P. Konovnitsyn (built by architect A. Godunov 1912) on the grounds of the Borodinsky Savior Convent, which was built on Bagration’s fleches from 1839-1859.

Main Monument
to the Russians

This monument is on the site of the Raevsky redoubt.

Monument to Russian
27th Infantry Division

Monument to the 27th Infantry Division of General D.P. Neverovsky (1912).

Memorial to Russian
4th Infantry Division
of General Y E Vyutembergsky

Borodino Mile Marker

Thank you to Elena Khonineva for providing the photos (except for the Main Monument and the French monument) and some of the descriptions.

If any readers have more information on any of the above monuments, or others, please let me know and I will be happy to update this post — Scott Armstrong

Some Means to Prolong their Pitiful Existence

Another post from Faber du Faur as he traveled the road to Moscow and observed the wretched conditions of the wounded from Borodino.

On the Main Road Between
Mojaisk and Krymskoi,
18 September
by Faber du Faur

“Crowds of wounded from both armies were scattered in countless villages after the battle of Borodino.  Sooner or later these villages, either by chance or deliberately, burnt to the ground.  It was then that these unfortunates, unable to flee on account of their wounds, found themselves at the mercy of the flames.  It was not unusual to find charred corpses laid out on floors in serried lines.  Those that survived, some horribly mutilated, sought some means to prolong their pitiful existence.”

Source:

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

The Field at Borodino September 17

Faber du Faur’s unit passed back over the field on September 17 and was able to describe and paint the scene, “Here, close by, in all its horror, was the valley of the Shevardino, close to where Morand’s division had been positioned at the start of the battle.  This is the battlefield long after the furious fighting had subsided, long after those violent passions had cooled, long after the powerful exclamations of honour and duty, which so stifle man’s humanity, had died away.  Now the battlefield has assumed the aspect we see before us, the ferocious masses of troops having been called away to some other scene of victory, and the silence of the tomb reigns supreme.  Bodies lie in heaps, enemy and friend alike united in profound peace.  Here and there a horse is still moving, having survived its deceased rider.”

On the Field of Borodino,
September 17
By Faber du Faur

“As we drew closer we could see that the corpses were, after eleven days, rotting away.”

“Below darkened skies, bands of fog, as though out of compassion, shielded us from seeing more of this vast scene of desolation.  Even so, we could plainly see the blood-soaked contours of the grand redoubt, the possession of which had been contested with such unabated fury.  A column had been erected within the redoubt bearing an inscription to the effect that here lay Montbrun and Caulaincourt, surrounded by fallen heroes.”

“The glory of our own troops was enshrined in these very redoubts, for it was here that Murat, overwhelmed by superior numbers, had sought shelter amongst us.”

“Here, on this field, we inscribed in the pages of history that never-to-be-forgotten name of Borodino.  No struggle had ever been so stubbornly contested; none had seen such numbers employed or such casualties on such a restricted area.”

“The bridge over the Kolotscha, situated just behind Borodino, was the scene of a bloody struggle on the 7th.”

The Bridge Over the Kolotscha,
Near Borodino Village,
17 September
by Faber du Faur

“The battle had opened with the seizure of Borodino village.  The 106th Line Regiment had been ordered to storm the village.  Having done so, they charged on over the bridge, towards the Gorki heights.  There, met by superior numbers, and confronted by a murderous fire from Russian entrenchments, they were thrown back to the bridge, having sustained terrible casualties.  The 92nd Line were rushed to their support, saving the bridge from destruction.”

“During the battle the bridge had been cleared by throwing any corpses into the river.  I saw that few now remained, hinting lightly at the terrible struggle that had taken place at this bridge over the Kolotscha.”

Eleven days after the bloody battle we marched over the corpse-strewn field.  Here the most horrific scenes lie far away in the distance and silence shrouds the countryside round about, for the angel of death had stalked this land.”

Behind the Village of Borodino,
By the Main Road to Moscow,
17 September
by Faber du Faur

“Those who fought at Borodino will recognize the picture, drawn from the main Moscow road and looking back on the scene of destruction.  On the right, in the valley where the Slonetz meets the Kolotscha, is Borodino village, the dome of its church looking down sadly on the ruins of Semenovskii to the left.  It was here, between these two points, that the battle was fought; the fight was bitter but our troops were ultimately victorious.”

Note that in the images above, all of the bodies have bare feet.  By now, having marched hundreds of miles across Europe, shoes were in short supply.   Aubin Dutheillet, a 21-year-old lieutenant with the 57th Line Regiment of I Corps wrote that during the battle, “General Teste’s ADC suffered the same fate [killed]; and by this time I was so short of footwear I stripped the unfortunate ADC, still not cold, of the boots he had on his feet to put them on my own!”

Sources:

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

1812: Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, Paul Britten Austin, p. 275

The Impossibility of Removing the Dead from Among the Living

What became of the wounded?  Bellot de Kergorre, a Flemish war commissary wrote of what he found in Mojaisk where he was charged with the feeding of the wounded, “Bandaged with hay and groaning dreadfully, they lived for the first few days on the few grains they could find in the straw they were lying on and the little flour I was able to give them. When soup was made it had to be taken to them, but we’d nothing to put it in!  Providentially I came upon a fair number of little bowls intended for lamps, so we were able to give our patients some water.  The lack of candles was a terrible privation.”

In the poorly lit shelters, “some men who, hidden in the straw, had been overlooked.  A shocking thing was the impossibility of removing the dead from among the living.  I’d neither medical orderlies nor stretchers.  Not only the hospital but also the streets and houses were full of corpses.”

Kergorre does get some carts to remove the dead after a few days.  “I personally took away 128 who’d been serving as pillows for the sick and were several days old.”

Baron Jean Dominique Larrey
Tending the Wounded
at the Battle of Moscow
by Louise Lejeune

Captain Pierre Aubrey of the 12th Chasseurs had been wounded and was one of those lying in the straw in Mojaisk.  “I’d quite enough to do driving off people who came too close.  The stirring of the least blade of straw around me caused me atrocious pain.  The famous Dr. [Dominique Jean] Larrey and his surgeons had made so many amputations at Mojaisk that there was a heap of legs and arms so big a large room couldn’t have contained them.”

Kergorre continues and lists the supplies issued to him, “…one barrel of flour, which we distributed to the generals, 4 or 5 pounds apiece. There were twelve divisional generals and 14 brigadiers  As for the other wounded, they were excluded from this issue.”

“I had very few feverish cases and apart from two or three hundred deaths during the first few days I saved all my patients.”

Kergorre’s immediate supervisor expressly forbid him “… to touch the convoys destined for headquarters and ordered [him] to live off the country.  But I told him I’d take full responsibility for levying a tithe on the convoys, preferring to be court-martialled for feeding the wounded entrusted to my care than to let them die of hunger.”

Source:

1812: Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, Paul Britten Austin, p. 326-328

A Tragic Silence

Philippe-Paul de Ségur describes Napoleon’s tour of the battlefield the next day.  “The army was motionless until noon – or rather, one might have said there was no army, but only an advance guard.  The rest of the troops were scattered over the battlefield picking up the wounded, of whom there were more than twenty thousand.  These were carried five miles in the rear, to the great abbey of Kolotskoi.”

“Napoleon rode over the battlefield; there was never such a ghastly sight.  Everything contributed to the horror of it: the gloomy sky, the cold rain, the violent gale, the houses in ashes, the plain torn up, littered with ruins and debris. On the horizon the melancholy foliage of the northern trees; soldiers wandering among the corpses, looking for food in the very knapsacks of their fallen comrades; dreadful wounds (Russian bullets were larger than ours); cold campfires without song or tale; a tragic silence.”

“The dead and dying were particularly numerous at the bottom of the ravines, where so many of our troops had been hurled and others had draggged themselves to seek shelter from the enemy or the storm.  The youngest of them moaned out the name of their country or their mother.  The older men awaited death with either an impassive or a sardonic air, without condescending to beg or complain.  Some of the men asked to be killed at once, but we quickly passed these poor wretches by, knowing that they were beyond all hope, yet not having the heart to put them out of their misery.  One man, the most horribly mutilated of all (he had only his trunk and one arm left), looked so lively, so full of hope, even gaiety, that we undertook to save his life.  As he was being carried off the field he complained of pain in his missing limbs, a common occurrence among people who have had arms or legs amputated.  This seems to be a fresh proof that the spirit remains whole, and that feeling belongs to it alone, and not to the body which can no more feel than think.”

Even those unscathed in the battle are suffering.  Lieutenant Maurice de Tascher notes in his diary, “In the evening, a charge by the Prussians.  Pajol wounded.  Sept 10; Same circus as yesterday. But at least at 4 pm they halt and stand firm.  We get lost and trot until 9 pm.  Bivouac in a wood, without water, or bread, or forage.  Ate horsemeat, extreme misery.  The regiment reduced to six troops.  The Russians are burning everything, even the villages with their wounded in them. My spyglass is stolen.  Did twelve miles.”

Sources:

Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, Philippe-Paul de Ségur, pp. 79-81

1812: Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, Paul Austin Britten, p. 329