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Life is Good for this General

Not everyone, however, was suffering.  It often took many wagons to move an officer’s belongings on campaign.  General Jean-Dominique Compans described the first few days of the invasion in a letter to his wife dated June 29, 1812.  His letter was written “Four leagues from Vilna, on the Kovno road.”

General Jean-Dominique Compans

Perhaps the letter was colored so as not to worry his wife.  It does sound, however, that he was spared many of the discomfort of the soldiers in the ranks.

“…  When the weather is fine, I sleep on straw under a shelter of branches and manage very well.  When the weather is bad, I sleep in a carriage, but when morning comes I feel the effects of not being able to stretch my legs.  However, none of this prevents me from enjoying excellent health, strength, and vigour.”

“I eat in the open air four or five times a day and my digestion works admirably: indeed, my stomach and I are in perfect harmony, and it couldn’t function better.  Every day I drink my bottle of Bordeaux wine, a little glass of rum, and several glasses of beer when I have any that is good, which does happen occasionally.  Now and then I take a cup of coffee.  We are not short of beef and mutton.  Duval [Compans’ valet de chambre, who was to die in Russia] is still at his post, and produces quite good campaign cooking.  From time to time we get a chicken or a goose, but unfortunately in this country these stupid creatures would rather be captured than purchased, and the takers are far more numerous than the buyers.  Before leaving Elbing I laid in a store of hams, smoked tongues, sausage, and rice.  These help to vary the menu, but of all this food my favourite dish is rice cooked in a good tablet soup à la Duval.  No green vegetables in this country; they take flight whenever our soldiers appear.  Nevertheless, we have found a few which had been hidden in their knapsacks.  I have had occasion to punish soldiers in my division who have been caught in this way: in my view one should be more on one’s guard than this in war-time.”

General Compans commanded the 5th Infantry Division of Davout’s I Corps.

Source: 1812: Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia edited by Antony Brett-James

The 200th Anniversary of Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia

This is a blog about Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia using eyewitness accounts to describe the experience of those who were there.  As closely as possible, I will match the accounts with the date that they happened, 200 years ago.  I’ll put in some of the strategy to give context, but mostly, this blog focuses on the dust, heat, lack of food, poor medical care, disease, illness, foraging, the cold, improper uniforms, snow, terror of the enemy and countless other concerns that make up the lives of a soldier on campaign.  In this case, Napoleon’s 1812 Russian campaign.

Crossing of the Nieman, June 1812

As a start, I began this blog a year ago and made posts on the 199th anniversary of the campaign.  My source material is limited so I’m looking for guest posters who can fill in the gaps with descriptions of what it was like for the soldiers during the campaign.  If you have obscure source material or perhaps a diary that has been passed down through the family (and you can translate it into English), please let me know so the story can be incorporated into this blog.

If there is enough participation, we’ll have a resource where people can go to see what the soldiers were experiencing on this date in history on the Russian campaign.

I can be reached at ScottArmstrong@RussianSnows.com.

The Purpose of this Blog

199 years ago tomorrow (June 24, 2011), Napoleon launched his invasion of Russia.  The campaign ended in disaster and an army 500,000 strong was reduced to 20,000.

This blog is to follow the progress of the campaign on the various anniversaries.  For this year, the 199th anniversary, I will mostly concentrate on the retreat which started from Moscow in October.  In 2012, I plan to cover the whole campaign.

The focus will be on the common soldier.