Category Archives: The Occupation of Moscow

Napoleon’s occupation of Moscow in 1812

Murat is “Captured”

As discussed in earlier posts, not all of the Grande Armée spent the winter inside the Moscow city limits.  Marshal Murat and about 25,000 men were 35 miles to the south of Moscow at Winkovo and they were starving.  An informal truce had fallen into place here.  Marshal Murat would even ride up to the Russian pickets and re-position them if he felt they were encroaching on the limits of the French camp.

Phillipe-Paul de Ségur describes the situation: “That armistice was an unusual one.  All that was necessary to break it was a reciprocal three-hour notice, and it applied only to the fronts of the two camps, and not to their flanks. At least, that is the way the Russians interpreted it.  We could neither bring in a convoy nor send out a foraging party without a struggle, so that fighting continued on every hand, except where it might be favorable to us.”

Marshal Murat
The King of Naples
Also Brother-in-Law of Napoleon

“… Murat took great pleasure in showing himself at the enemy’s outposts, reveling in the flattering looks which his fine appearance, his reputation for bravery, and his high rank won for him; and the Russian generals were careful not to do anything that would put him out of conceit.  They showered him with proofs of deference likely to preserve his illusions.  He ordered their mounted sentries about as if they were French, and when the portion of the field they were occupying suited him, they immediately surrendered it to him.”

“Some of the Cossack officers went so far as to feign enthusiasm, and to declare that they no longer recognized any other emperor than the one reigning in Moscow.  For a time Murat foolishly believed that they would never fight him again…  Napoleon was heard to exclaim as he read one of his letters, ‘Murat, King of the Cossacks! What foolishness!'”

Major Victor Dupuy of the 7th Hussars was an eyewitness to Murat’s boldness where the outposts of the two armies were 50 yards apart: “The King  of Naples [Murat], finding the Cossacks too close to us, go among them, and make them withdraw their sentries and show them where they ought to be.  The Russians obeyed.  Their generals, even those of the advance guard, whom we’d often had a chance to see, made no difficulties about yielding to the King’s least requirements.  He really had an air of commanding the whole lot of them.”

While this jockeying of the sentries was going on, the men and horses were starving.  Lieutenant Maurice Tascher  wrote in his diary about the, “extreme poverty of the army, which is living off vegetables, horse meat and unground rye.  In the forests the peasants are defending themselves against the soldiers when they try to get some food and forage.”

Dupuy records how each time the 7th Hussars assemble there are, “Unfortunate horses which, lying down and worn out, could no longer struggle to their feet and died on the spot.  Though Moscow was stuffed with victuals, the men were in the greatest need.  The King [Murat] wrote to the Emperor to inform him of our truly calamitous situation.  The Emperor interrogated the ordnance officer carrying the despatch who, to play the courtier, replied that we lacked for nothing – and that was a word too much!  The Emperor even got angry with the King of Naples for sending him a pack of lies.  This became quickly bruited abroad and the officer received all the reproaches and all the curses he deserved.  I shall abstain from giving his name.”

Battle of Tarutino
by Piter von Hess

Jean-Roch Coignet of the Imperial Guard had been given dispatch duty at this time.  Assigned to one such mission he writes, “I was sent to a village, eighteen or twenty leagues from Moscow, to carry orders to Prince Murat.  I came upon a body of cavalry in retreat – our men, on bare-back horses.  They had been surprised while grooming their horses.  I could not find Prince Murat; he had run off in his shirt.  It was a bad sign to see those fine horsemen running for their lives.  I asked for the prince.”

“‘He is captured,’ they replied; ‘they took him in his bed.'”

“And I could learn nothing further.  The Emperor heard of it at once through [Étienne Marie Antoine Champion de] Nansouty‘s aides-de-camp, and on my return from this miserable mission, I found the army en route to aid Murat.  I was half-dead, and my horse could no longer walk…  The Emperor had ordered that his household and all his office staff should be sent from Moscow the 23rd of October, and join him at Mojaisk.  It is impossible to give any idea of the rapidity of the execution of his orders.”

“The preparations for this move were completed in three hours…   I got the provisions ready: about ten loaves of sugar, a good-sized box of tea, some elegant cups, and a copper to melt the sugar in.  We had a carriage-load of provisions.”

Murat, of course, had not been captured, but the French had been dealt an embarrassing blow at what was called the Battle of Tarutino.  An early morning attack had caught the French, complacent due to the informal truce and with many men out foraging, off guard.  Murat managed to stop the attack with a charge of curassiers which he personally led.  Losses for the French were 2,500 men, 38 cannon and baggage.

Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, Phillipe-Paul de Ségur, pp 123-124 1812: Napoleon in Moscow, Paul Britten Austin, pp 119, 121-123
Napoleon in Russia: The 1812 Campaign, Alan Palmer, p 181
Captain Coignet, Jean-Roch Coignet, pp 225-226

Things are comfortable in Moscow, but it’s time to leave

Jakob Walter’s account of his stay in Moscow is short, but he did write about how provisions could be bought in the “German suburb” where the Württemberg corps stayed for three weeks.

“Here one could find and buy provisions; for each soldier was now citizen, merchant, innkeeper, and baker of Moscow.  Everyone tried to dress as much as possible with silks and materials of all colors.  Only tailors were lacking; silks, muslins, and red Morocco leather were all abundant.  Things to eat were not wanting either.  Whoever could find nothing could buy something and vegetables in sufficient quantity stood in the fields.  Particularly was there an abundance of beets, which were as round and large as bowling balls and fiery red throughout.  There were masses of cabbage three and four times as large in size as cabbage heads that we would consider large.  The district called Muscovy is more favored in agriculture and climate, and more civilized than the regions toward St. Petersburg than those through which we had come.  It was still good weather, and one could steep warm enough under a coat at night.”

Negotiations for a Russian surrender had not gone according to plan and Napoleon decided to leave Moscow and head west in search of winter quarters.  Walter describes the evacuation: “After we had been citizens of Moscow for four weeks, we lost our burgher rights again.  Napoleon refused the peace treaty proposed to him, and the army which had advanced some thirty hours’ farther on had to retreat, because the Russian army stationed in Moldavia was approaching.  Now it was October 17, and Napoleon held an army review and announced the departure for October 18, early in the morning at 3 o’clock, with the warning that whoever should delay one hour would fall into the hands of the enemies.  All beer, brandy, etc., was abandoned and whatever was still intact was ordered to be burned.  Napoleon himself had the Kremlin undermined and blown up. [Note: The Kremlin was not blown up]  The morning came, and each took his privilege of citizenship upon his shoulders and covered it with his coat cape of strong woolen cloth, and everybody had bread pouches of red Morocco leather at his side, all had an odd appearance as they set out; they filled, as far as it was possible, everything with sugar and the so-called Moscow tea in order to withstand the future misery.”

The Grande Armée did not actually leave Moscow until the 19th.  Perhaps Walter had his dates wrong or merely remembered the original plan for departure.


The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, Jakob Walter, pp 57 – 59

The Kremlin

Faber du Faur captured an image from one of his last days in Moscow as preparations for departure were being made.

In the Kremlin, Moscow
17 October
by Faber du Faur

In the Kremlin, Moscow, 17 October
“Moscow boasts hundreds of churches, resplendent with gold, silver and brightly coloured, shimmering domes, earning for its city, the ancient capital of the Czars, the title of the City of the Golden Cupolas.  It is an astonishing sight, the only one of its kind, perhaps, in the entire world.  The city is a wonder to behold in the sunlight, particularly as you emerge from the forests to the west of Moscow, on the Mojaisk road.”

“In October 1812 the square to the east of the church was covered with hundreds of French and Allied caissons which, owing to the lack of draught horses, had been deposited within the Kremlin’s walls.  The square was so congested that it was in fact rather difficult to find a suitable position from which to draw.”

“The caissons were abandoned when we commenced our retreat and gunpowder from them was later used for blasting mine galleries beneath the Kremlin.”

Horses in the Assumption Cathedral

The cathedral on the right in the above painting with the silver domes is the Cathedral of the Assumption.  Faur included the following description giving the hundreds of years worth of history (even in 1812).  Contrast that with the images on the left.  “The Cathedral of the Assumption was founded in 1325 by Peter, Metropolitan of Kiev,

French in the
Assumption Cathedral
Commemorative 1912 Russian
Candy Box Card

and was completed in 1327.  Struck by lightning in 1492, it was rebuilt in 1519 by Grand Duke Ivan Ivanovitch.  The interior was decorated by gold-leaf frescos commissioned by Czar Ivan Feodorovitch in 1692, and Catherine II restored the Church in 1773.”

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

Commemorative card image and translation provided by Alexey Temnikov

The Story of Pavel Engelhardt

In 1912, a series of cards depicting scenes from the 1812 campaign were placed inside of Russian candy boxes in honor of the 100th anniversary of the invasion.  Alexey Temnikov sent me images of the cards and translated the phrases on them as well.  I will be using the cards in posts where appropriate, but one card raised a question.

Engelhardt’s feat
1912 Commemorative Russian Card

The card showed a civilian, lifting his blindfold before a firing squad.  I assumed it was another scene of shooting incendiaries in Moscow, but there was already a card depicting this.  The translation came back as “feat Engelhardt.”  Alexey wrote that Engelhardt was a landowner near Smolensk.  A search of the internet (the English version) for the story behind this scene came up empty, but did confirm an Engelhardt family around Smolensk.

Alexey was kind enough to send me a link to the Russian version of Wikipedia which has the following account [I’ve made a few changes to smooth out the translation done by my browser from Russian to English]:

Paul Engelhardt was born in 1774 to a family of nobles from Porechsky district of Smolensk province. He studied in the Land Cadet Corps, from which he graduated in 1787 with the rank of lieutenant, after which he served in the Russian Army. [He achieved] the rank of lieutenant colonel, [and] retired.

When in 1812 the French troops captured Smolensk, Engelhardt, together with several other armed peasants and landlords, organized a guerrilla army, which began to attack enemy units. Engelhardt was personally involved in the attacks on the enemy troops [and] in clashes personally killed 24 French. [He was turned over by his serfs to the] French. [On] October 3, 1812 a French military court sentenced [him] to death. The French tried to persuade Engelhardt to cooperate and offered him the rank of colonel in Napoleon’s army, but he refused.

On October 15, 1812 Engelhardt was shot at the gate Molohovskih Smolensk fortress wall (now defunct).  According to eyewitnesses, he stopped the French from reading his sentence before the execution, saying “… So as not to see more of the devastation of my country and the oppression of my countrymen.”  He forbid [the French] from blindfolding him and said, “Get out! No one had seen death, [but] I will see her,” said goodbye to colleagues and ordered [the firing squad] to shoot. Initially, the French shot him in the leg, promising to cancel the execution [and heal him if he agreed to come] over to their side, but he again refused. Then [he was] given a volley of 18 charges, two of which were in the chest and one in the stomach. Engelhardt was [still] alive. One of the French soldiers [then] killed him with a shot to the head. [On] October 24 at the same location was shot another member of the partisan movement – Semyon Ivanovich Shubin.

Commemorative card showing
the Englehardt monument
at the beginning of the 20th century

Engelhardt’s feat was immortalized on a marble slab in the church of the 1st Cadet Corps, where he trained. Russian Emperor Alexander I provide [the] Engelhardt [family an] annual pension. In 1833, Nicholas I gave money for the construction of [a] monument [to] Engelhardt. In 1835, a monument was erected on the site of his death. The monument was destroyed by the Soviet government. Currently, the house number 2 Dzerzhinsky Street, next to the Square of Heroes Memorial, [has] a memorial plaque on the execution Engelhardt.

Thank you to Alexey Temnikov for all of his help in providing the original 1912 candy card image, translation of the phrases on the cards and links to information about Engelhardt.

Note:  Other translations from Russian for the word “feat” are deed, exploit or act of bravery.

This is the link to the Russian website about Pavel Engelhardt which includes many links.  The site is in Russian, however, my computer gives me an option to translate the site into English.  Google also offers a translator.

By doing a search on Pavel Engelhardt in Russian (Павел Энгельгардт), I was able to get to this website which had information I used to verify/clarify/augment the information from the Russian Wikipedia site referenced above.

Note that I do not read or speak Russian.  All translating is done by either Alexey Temnikov or Google Translate.

Dates in this post are the modern, Gregorian dates. ~ Scott Armstrong

Someone is Thinking Ahead

Antony Brett-James has an account by Baron Louis Bacler d’Albe, Napoleon’s director of the topographical cabinet.  On October 15, 1812, he wrote a letter to his wife which was intercepted by the Russians.  It shows that the Baron, at least, was preparing for winter weather.

“I have been fortunate enough to find a grenadier who kindly made new warm linings for my clothes.  I have had an excellent, though antique, cloak altered so that I can ride in it; my summer hat has been cleaned by a very skillful hussar; a chasseur is mending my boots and has promised me a pair of fur half-boots to wear over them.  I have had my Paris cap covered in miniver.  Thus I am warmly re-equipped.  Joson [Bacler d’Albe’s oldest son] is equally well off with a good wolf’s fur, and we are prepared for any eventuality.  I have new French servants to replace the prisoners, and good local horses.  Sappe can bake bread for a fortnight, we are collecting a little oats, packing up some rum and wine, some sugar, tea, even some coffee and chocolate.”

“I still have left over a few soup tablets and several hams.  You can see that with all this we can travel 150 leagues in any direction.  In two days’ time we shall probably know what is in store for us.”

A Lost Glove and the Essence of this Blog

While reading Paul Britten Austin’s 1812: Napoleon in Moscow, I came across an eyewitness account that is the epitome of what this blog is about.  Each person who was an eyewitness to the invasion has his own story.  Each had to deal with the weather, the food situation, his clothing, personal injuries or illnesses, where he would sleep, the lack of sleep and so on.  Sometimes, it is easy to overlook these mundane, yet critical situations everyone had to confront while participating in the grand strategy.  This blog talks very little about the big picture, but instead focuses on the human element and what it was like to be on the campaign of 1812 regardless of rank.

Episode of the war of 1812
by Illarion Pryanishnikov, 1874

Without further ado, here is the account of Colonel Lubin Griois, colonel of the horse artillery, 3rd Cavalry Corps.  Not all members of the Grande Armée spent the occupation inside of Moscow.  Griois was southwest of the city, near Winkovo when he dropped his glove “… and neither I nor my orderly had been able to get it back out of the mud my horse’s foot had trampled it into.  This loss, so light in any other circumstance, was for me a very cruel one.  I would have no chance to make it good, and throughout the retreat I’d only have one glove.  I remember, too, that by a sort of superstitious presentiment I regarded being unable to find this object I’d just seen fall at my horse’s feet as a nasty augury of what was to come.”

While he was digging through the mud for his lost glove, the Colonel wasn’t thinking about his command or how Napoleon’s attempts to make peace with Alexander were going – he was worried about how he was going to keep his hand warm in the coming months.

1812: Napoleon in Moscow, Paul Britten Austin, pp. 79-80.

The Peasants Take Revenge

As the Grande Armée sent foraging parties out from Moscow, the villagers were returning to their homes and in no mood to tolerate more abuse at the hands of the marauders.

From a 1912 commemorative
candy box card
The caption reads:
“French Heist in Moscow”

This account is from a woman, Maria Stepanova, the wife of a pope, in Bogorodsic, renamed Noginsk, 27miles/45 kilometers east of Moscow:  “The enemy appeared nearly every day in our village and as soon as they were perceived all men took up arms; our cossacks charged them with their long sabers or shot them with their pistols, and behind the cossacks were running the peasants, some with axes, some with pitchforks.  After every excursion they brought ten or more prisoners which they drowned in the Protka which runs near the village, or they fusilladed them in the prairie.  The unfortunates passed our windows, my mother and I did not know where to hide ourselves in order not to hear their cries and the report of the firearms.  My poor husband, Ivan Demitovitch, became quite pale, the fever took him, his teeth chattered, he was so compassionate!  One day the cossacks brought some prisoners and locked them up in a cart-house built of stone.  They are too few, they said, it is not worth while to take any trouble about them now; with the next lot which we shall take we will shoot or drown them together.  This cart-house had a window with bars.  Peasants came to look at the prisoners and gave them bread and boiled eggs; they did not want to see them starving while awaiting death.  One day when I brought them eatables I saw a the window a young soldier — so young!  His forehead was pressed against the bars, tears in his eyes, and tears running down his cheeks.  I myself began to cry, and even to-day my heart aches when I think of him.  I passed lepecheks through the bars and went away without looking behind me.  At that time came an order from the government that no more prisoners should be killed but sent to Kalouga.  How we were contented!”

These are the instructions a Russian partisan leader, Colonel Denis Davidov, gave to a group of villagers about how to handle bands of French marauders:

“‘Receive them,’ I told them, ‘in a friendly fashion, offer them with bows (since in their ignorance of the Russian language they understand bows better than words) all you have in the way of eatables and especially drink,  put them to bed drunk, and when you perceive that they are really asleep, all of you pounce on their weapons which are usually to be found in a heap in a corner of the cottage or piled in the street.  When you have exterminated them, bury their bodies in the pigsty, in the forest or in some impenetrable place.  Take care at all costs that the spots where the bodies are buried are not given away by freshly dug earth; for this purpose scatter a pile of stones or logs over the spot.  All military booty such as uniforms, helmets, straps, etc., you must either burn or bury in the same places as the bodies of the Frenchmen.  This precaution is necessary because another band of infidels will very likely dig in the fresh earth, thinking to find money or your possessions there; but when instead they unearth the bodies of their comrades and objects belonging to them, they will kill you all and burn down the village.  And you, friend headman, must supervise the carrying-out of all my instructions and give orders for three or four lads to be always ready in your yard, so that the moment they catch sight of a very large number of Frenchmen they can mount their horses and gallop in different directions in search of me — I shall come to to your aid.'”

Thank you to Alexey Temnikov for providing information on the location and name of the village Bogorodsic which has since been renamed Noginsk.  Also for providing the image of the 1912 card and the translation.


Napoleon’s Campaign in Russia Anno 1812, Achilles Rose, 1913, p. 34

1812: Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia; Antony Brett-James, p. 203

Contrasting Views in Moscow

In reading the eyewitness accounts of the occupation of Moscow, it is sometimes a study in contrast.  Compare the two paintings of peaceful scenes with well dressed soldiers to the description at the end by an author of a book published in 1914.  First, two paintings by Faber du Faur, both dated 11 October, with his accompanying descriptions:

In the Vicinity of Lafertovskaja Sloboda, Moscow, 11 October

In the Vicinity of
Lafertovskaja Sloboda
by Faber du Faur

“If you stand on the left bank of the Jausa, between the Military Academy and the Church of the Old Believers, with your back to the latter, you look out towards the Soltikov bridge and the road which runs between the German Quarter and the Vladimir Gate.  The banks of the river are tree-lined, and these trees partially obscure the Military Hospital and the Lafertovskaja suburb.  To the left can be seen a group of buildings occupied by Imperial Quarters and a number of the 25th Division’s officers.”

Moscow, 11 October

Moscow, 11 October
by Faber du Faur

“There was a particularly beautiful church, a little distance from the German Quarter, in the direction of the Kremlin.  It was remarkable chiefly on account of its multitude of bell-towers and had, by and large, escaped the flames, standing out from the desolation that surrounded it.  It took us some time to learn the name of the street, and the identity of the saint to whom this richly coloured church was consecrated.  There were too few inhabitants around to ask, and those that remained would flee as soon as they caught sight of us.  The street itself was so littered with debris that it was impossible to get from one end to the other.”

“Finally, by dint of persistence, I learned that the street was called Basmannaya and that the church was under the protection of Saint Nicetas.”

Here is a passage from Napoleon’s Campaign in Russia Anno 1812 by Dr. Achilles Rose:  “All eye-witnesses speak of the extreme destitution of the soldiers in regard to clothing after one month’s stay in Moscow.  Already at this time, even before the most terrible and final trials of the retreat which awaited them, one had to consider them lost.  When they first took to woman’s clothes or shoes or hats it was considered an amusement, a joke, but very soon a mantilla, a soutane, a veil became a precious object…”

“At first Napoleon reviewed the regiments near the ponds of the Kremlin, and at first reviews the troops marched proudly, briskly, with firm step, but soon they began to fail with astonishing rapidity.  They answered the roll of the drums calling them together, clad in dirty rags and with torn shoes, in fast diminishing numbers.  During the last weeks of their stay in Moscow many had reached the last stage of misery, after having wandered through the streets looking for a little bit of nourishment, dressed up as for a carnival, but without desire to dance, as one remarked in grim humor.”

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

Napoleon’s Campaign in Russia Anno 1812, by Achilles Rose, p. 34



An Idyllic Scene of Moscow

Faber du Faur managed to find a number of peaceful scenes to record as we shall see in today’s post and in the days to come.

The Church of the Old Believers,
Moscow, 3 October
by Faber du Faur

“III Corps’ artillery were quartered in the Military Academy, a building in the Laftertovskaja district on the left bank of the Jausa by the Soltikov bridge, throughout our stay in Moscow.”

“The surrounding area was magnificent, covered in trees and presenting a delightful appearance.  Exploring the area, we came across a beautiful church, hidden in a charming clump of trees.  It was a most dazzling sight: its cupolas were blue and speckled with golden stars and towered forth over the brilliant masses of autumnal leaves.  This was the Church of the Old Believers, although I was unable to discover whether it was actually frequented by Old Believers or whether it was just named after them.”


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

Scenes of Moscow

Faber du Faur’s scene dated October 2nd reflects for the first time that the weather is getting colder as evidenced by the great coat on the sentry and the accompanying description.

Guarding III Corps’ Artillery Park,
By the Vladimir Gate, Moscow, 2 October
by Faber du Faur

“III Corps’ artillery park was situated by the Vladimir Gate and was guarded by Württemberg, French and Dutch troops.  Soon, however, the position was deemed vulnerable and the park was relocated in a square, with sentries being lodged in a merchant’s house close by.  The rest of III Corps’ artillery were quartered a short distance from the park.”

“Here we see the park’s sentries a their posts.  Cold nights and mornings had already led to the troops’ adopting some strange costumes: one of the sentries, a Dutch gunner, keeps out the cold with a fur cap, warms his hands in a muff and, under his greatcoat, sports a nightgown.  Such precautions were but the prelude to the universal adoption of attempts to keep out the cold.”


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