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