Tag Archives: Albrecht Adam

Eugène: Napoleon’s True Son

Today’s post is by a guest blogger, Alice Shepperson.  Alice read my earlier blog post about the portrait of the King of Rome and wondered how Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s step-son and adopted son felt about the situation.  Alice and I exchanged a few emails and she agreed to put her Cambridge history degree to work and the result is this post on the relationship between Napoleon and Eugène.

Without further delay, here is Alice’s post:


Legend has it that Eugène de Beauharnais first met Napoleon when he was 15. He had come to the office of the commander of the Convention’s

Eugène de Beauharnais

troops in order to beg the return of his father’s sword, which had been confiscated, along with all other weapons in Paris. General Alexandre de Beauharnais had been executed the previous summer during the Terror, and Eugène was anxious to secure the return of this keepsake. Impressed by his courage, General Bonaparte returned the sword and invited the young man to visit him again. When he did so, his mother Josephine tagged along, and the rest is history.

Although Eugène recalled in his memoirs that “I have never been able to forget the agony I endured when I realized that my mother had made up her mind to marry again,” he quickly formed a very close attachment to his new step-father who he was anxious to please. Eugène wished to be a soldier, so in 1797 Napoleon took him to Italy as his aide-de-camp and then to Egypt the following year. Eugène was quick to prove himself. After the battle of Marengo, Napoleon wrote to Josephine that, “…your son is making rapid strides on the road to immortality. He has covered himself in glory in all the battles in Italy.”

Though not perhaps an outstanding military genius, Eugène proved

himself brave, hard working, reliable and loyal, and became thoroughly proficient in military strategy and logistics – talents which Napoleon found ample use for.  A steady stream of promotions followed: he was colonel by the age of 22 and a general two years later. In addition to military rank, be became a prince of the French Empire in 1804 and Viceroy of Italy in 1805.

Eugène later earned the epithet “The Bayard of the century, without fear and without reproach” (a title which unfortunately lacks punch unless you know of the exploits of the Chevalier de Bayard (1473–1524)). In addition to his physical bravery, perhaps the most remarkable feature of Eugène’s character was his spotless honour. In an imperial court where Bonaparte’s family were continually conspiring to secure advancement and political gain, it was a blessing to Napoleon to have one person who was, as Madame Remusat described Eugène, “simple and frank, light-hearted and open in all his dealings, displaying no ambition, holding himself aloof from every intrigue, and doing his duty wherever he was placed”.

The Russia Campaign

Napoleon in 1812

By 1812, Eugène was an experienced soldier, having led the Army of Italy since the Wagram campaign of 1809. Napoleon had formally adopted Eugène in 1806 and their relationship had survived the divorce of the Empress; in fact when Eugène had suggested following his mother into retirement, the Emperor had replied “Do you want to leave me, then, Eugene? You  . . . ah! …Supposing I have a son… who will take my place by his side when I am absent? Who would be a father to him if I died? Who would make a man of him?” Though the birth of the “Eaglet” in 1811 had distanced the Emperor a little from his first son, the bond remained strong.

In the Russian campaign, Eugène once more commanded the Army of Italy. He wrote frequent letters home to his wife, Princess Augusta of Bavaria, who was pregnant with their fourth child. On July 6th, he writes from Vilna that “Yesterday the Emperor asked me a great many questions about you. I begged him to allow me to call our next little darling after him, if it should be a boy. He replied, ‘Yes, gladly.'” Luckily, the child turned out to be a girl.

HQ on 9 July 1812
by Albrecht Adam
Adam served on Eugène’s staff

Eugène commanded the left wing of the army at the Battle of Borodino on the 7th September and entered Moscow with the rest of the army on the 14th September. On the 18th, he writes to Augusta “This city is almost entirely in ashes… The Russians have been guilty of the utmost barbarity in thus ruining 300,000 inhabitants and 600 of the greatest seigneurs in Russia, in order to prevent us obtaining possession of their flour, wine, furs and cattle… From 8 to 10,000 inhabitants remained in the town; they are now naked, starving, without a roof over their heads… it is awful!”

During the army’s stay in Moscow, Eugène was often at the Emperor’s side. They played vingt-et-un to pass the time, but found few other amusements in the city, “not even a billiard table”. Things got so dull that the Emperor asked Eugène to have a particular troop of singers sent up from Italy, though it quickly became apparent that this would be impossible. There was however, time for shopping. On the 28th September, he writes to Augusta that “The courier has started with the furs and a small store of tea; he will arrive in time, I hope, for your first soiree when tea will take the place of ices. Here we shall have more ice than tea, and everybody is getting out their fur coats in consequence; as for me, I shall wrap myself up in fur from top to toe.” Eugène’s Italian troops felt the cold even more keenly than the French, being unused to cold winters.

It would be on the retreat from Moscow that Eugène would show his true worth, distinguishing himself in the rearguard actions at Malojaroslawitz and Borowsk, and doing perhaps more than any other general to maintain the coherence and morale of the frozen columns of men. By December, it would be Eugène who shepherded the last survivors of the Grande Armée back across the Nieman.


Napoleon and His Adopted Son Eugene de Beauharnais by V. M. Montagu

The Memoirs of the Empress Josephine by Madame de Remusat, written between 1818 and 1821.

Napoleon and Josephine: An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce.


Be sure to visit Alice’s blog Noon Observation, where her razor wit and keen observations are on display. ~ Scott Armstrong

The Paintings of Albrecht Adam

Albrecht Adam (1786 – 1862) was a civilian artist who accompanied Napoleon’s army all the way to Moscow, but had the good fortune to leave before the retreat began.  Adam was a German who met Napoleon’s step-son/adopted son Prince Eugene de Beauharnais in 1809 who took him into his household in Italy as his court painter.  In 1812, he was attached to the Prince’s topographical bureau with IV Corps.  Because he left for home on September 24, 1812, his paintings only cover the advance into Russia.

I will post the last two paintings he made of the campaign here along with their accompanying text from Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812, edited by Jonathan North.

Moscow, 22 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

22 September 1812, Moscow
The violence of the fire which engulfed Moscow was matched by the ferocity of the French soldiers as they watched the destruction.  But the army of camp-followers, servants, sutlers and so on which follows in the wake of any army, committed its fair share towards the sacking of the city.  Horses, vehicles, furniture, tools, paintings, works of art, and all manner of other objects which were of no immediate need to anyone, all were seized and dragged into courtyards or onto street-corners and sold off.  Most of the looters were drunk and this meant that they frequently fell to quarreling over their booty, resulting in bloody and battered faces.”

“It had been an army previously distinguished by its fine martial bearing and its appearance, its love of order, sentiments of heroism and honour.  Now, it was revolting to behold and it was a sight which convinced me that I should now return to my homeland and no longer play the witness to inevitable ruin.  Firm in my resolve, I prepared to set off, deaf to those who warned me of the dangers of such a journey, not so that I might avoid the deplorable fate of the army but that I might escape the effects such disgusting scenes were having upon me.”

22 September 1812
Napoleon in Burning Moscow
by Albrecht Adam

22 September 1812, Moscow
“Here is the man who shaped the events which so characterized an age so unforgettable to those who lived through it.  A hero who, at the head of a valiant army, threatened to overthrow the governments of Europe and overturn the continent’s thrones.  But a hero who, in the ash of Moscow, met the end of his glorious career.  And at what cost was the effort to end the gigantic march of this man made?  Only an enormous sacrifice for Russia won victory.”

“No image can truly capture the terrible scene of burning Moscow, only those who saw the city prey to flames can recall the horror which so gripped the soul. Here I have placed a portrait of the hero of the age before the smoldering ruins of Moscow as they menace him with cries of ‘Here your career shall end!'”

Scenes of Moscow by Albrecht Adam

Albrecht Adam was a civilian attached to the topographical staff of Prince Eugène, commander of IV Corps and Napoleon’s step/adopted son.  Today’s post shows three paintings he dated 20 September 1812 along with their accompanying description.

The French Army Before Moscow
20 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

The French Army Before Moscow
“Here was the army camped a few miles before Moscow, so hopeful that the trials and tribulations were now at an end and that respite awaited them in the capital.  This camp was perhaps the last one the French army would enjoy and it is characterised by its military bearing.  Despite being exhausted, weakened by forced marches and reduced to half of its effectives by combat, it was still a great army commanded by a great captain and one which had braved all the obstacles the Russian terrain and climate could present.  But once it reached Moscow its fate was sealed.  Looking at this scene, which of us cannot prevent the sad reflection from escaping his lips that ‘those legions of heroes no longer exist'”

20 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

“On this day large parts of Moscow were nothing more than smouldering ruins.  The dye was cast, fortune was reversed and here it was that providence put an end to the glories hitherto enjoyed by the French army.”

“The soldiers were depressed having to deal with nothing but woe and were prey to dark presentiments.  Having been exhausted by forced marches, afflicted by all manner of privation and particularly by the lack of food, and deprived of clothing which might resist the rigours of bad weather, very few of them were in any condition to even consider what lay in store for them.  Soon they would succumb, unfortunates, to the terrible storm which would be unleashed upon them.”

“On 20 and 21 September elements of the army began to move into the city from Peterskoi where Napoleon had stayed whilst the fire ravaged the city.  A few sentries were posted here and there among the smoking cinders, all that remained of this fine imperial city, whilst bands of unfortunate men sought shelter in vain.  Others, motivated by abject want, searched high and low for food but there were also others, inspired by greed, who sought to acquire booty even though it could little benefit them in such desperate circumstances.  Everyone was in a state of confused desperation and none really knew what they were looking for.”

20 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

“The effect the destruction of Moscow had on individual soldiers was, of course, diverse, and it offered an attentive observer a rich variety of subjects to study.  On the whole, the vast majority were overcome by discouragement, partly induced by the long ordeal they had been through and by the fact that they had seen all their hopes for a better future, and for an end to their sufferings, go up in smoke.”

“Some of the more reflective soldiers were absorbed by sombre contemplation of what might now come to pass.  Those of a more insensitive nature allowed themselves the liberty to do as they pleased and to profit from the opportunity.  Discipline, so vital for the working of such a vast host, was gone and violence and selfishness overcame order.  True, a mass of provisions had been found in Moscow but the disorder which reigned in the city put paid to any attempt to distribute such supplies fairly.  Everyone, by guile or by force, sought to get his hands on anything which might prove useful.”

“So it was that one day, whilst passing through the ruins, I came across a body of drunken cavalrymen dragging along with them whatever they could carry and shouting at teach other to hurry up.  One of them was riding a horse carrying a basket loaded with bottles and supplies.  He was so completely drunk that he tottered this way and that until his horse made a sharp movement, sending the man sprawling on the floor along with his booty.  His comrades laughed heartily, drunk as they were, at the scene.”


Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812, edited by Jonathan North

An Artist Sees His First Battle and London Gets News of the Invasion

Artist Albrecht Adam wished to see a battle so he would have some material from which to make his paintings.  On July 25, 1812, there was an engagement with the Russian rear guard west of Vitebsk at Ostrovna.  Adam was attached to Prince Eugene’s staff.  A German, he wrote that he was treated well by the French, but was teased, ” ‘Just now our Adam is always around, but once the bullets start flying we shall have to hunt for him.’ “

Adam vowed to himself to show them “…that a German heart is worth as much as a French one.”

He proudly wrote that he “…saw enough to provide me with material for a lifetime of painting battles.  Furthermore, on this occasion I really heard the bullets whistle, but I did not let this distract me from drawing.  I still possess sketches done in the middle of the battle and autographed by Prince Eugene.”

Meanwhile, the news of the French invasion of Russia was only just reaching London.  The Times had an account of the crossing of the Niemen in the July 25th, 1812 edition while the Observer carried the news the next day.  It had taken one month for the news to cross Europe and the English Channel.

Napoleon Reaches Kamen

On July 24, 1812, Napoleon reached the city of Kamen, about 200 miles from the Niemen river crossing.  He wrote to the Empress, “We are having much rain, the weather is stifling, always we keep marching… I have marched too far.”

Meanwhile, the cavalry under Marshal Joachim Murat was riding through the countryside ahead of the main army, looking for the Russians.  Major Heinrich von Roos was a doctor with the 3rd Wurttemberg Regiment in Montbrun’s cavalry corps.  He wrote that “On 23 July we came in pouring rain to the River Dvina, which we had orders to cross.  There was no bridge.  For several days we had not been dry, and now such a cold bath was pleasant for nobody, all the more so because we were in a sickly condition.”  He rode his swimming horse across the river between two N.C.O.s and made it safely to the other side although soaked up to his ribs.  He noted “Everyone who swam was drenched likewise.  None of our men was drowned, but the next regiment did not get over without loss.”

On the far bank, they built fires, but could not get dry because of the rain.  “We exchanged greetings, filled our pipes, and everyone who had some schnaps in his bottle offered it round to his friends.”

It is interesting to note that there were women along with the scouting cavalry.  von Roos wrote that they pitied two wives of the regiment who rode smaller horses and as a result they and their baggage were even more soaked than the men.  He mentions them by name and was very complimentary about their abilities, “The first, Frau Worth, was able to fend for herself so well under all circumstances that she was highly esteemed by the officers and respected by the soldiers.  The other woman, the careful Frau Weiler, had already proved extremely useful to us, and did so again when we advanced further into Russia, through her knowledge of the Polish language.”

Another source is the artist Albrecht Adam.  He wrote on the 24th that Prince Eugene de Beauharnais‘s corps was next to the River Dvina.  Napoleon and the main army joined them there.  He tells an amusing story about how he could observe Napoleon and his party on the high bank of the river.  He “noticed a striking person wearing a light-blue coat trimmed all over in gold braid, red trousers edged with gold, a strange hat lavishly decked with plumes – in short, a person of whom I could make nothing.  What struck me most forcibly was that he had so much to do near the Emperor…”  Adam finally asks an officer “Perhaps you can solve a riddle.  How is it that the Emperor has so many dealings with that drum-major?”  The officer exclaimed “…that is Murat, the King of Naples.”

A Russian Prisoner of War

Security in the camps of the Grande Armée was apparently lax during the advance into Russia as illustrated in this account by Albrecht Adam.

A Russian Prisoner of War
at Headquarters, Kamen
21 July 1812
by Albrecht Adam

A Russian Prisoner of War at Headquarters, Kamen
“On 22 July one of our chasseurs, serving on the picquets, brought a Russian prisoner back with him to headquarters.  This man, by his singular conduct, attracted universal attention.  He seemed so familiar with the men of our advanced posts that he had been eating and drinking with them.  Even before the Prince [Eugène de Beuaharnais], who wished to speak with him, his conduct showed such pluck as almost bordered on temerity.”

“The following day we heard that he had been granted a little freedom in his movements and, taking advantage of that, he had absconded during the night without anyone being aware of how or when.  This gave rise to much conjecture and I won’t repeat that here as the truth was never arrived at.”

“The man next to the prisoner in this plate is the Prince’s Mameluke who had accompanied the Viceroy since the Egyptian expedition but who, alas, came to an untimely end.”

“During the retreat the Mameluke was taken seriously ill and stayed behind at Kovno.  His master left him a sum of money and entrusted him to the care of some charitable individuals, but he was never heard of again.  There were accusations that the man had simply given up and that he should have made every effort to keep up with the army.  But, for my part, I believe that the suffering he endured personally, and witnessing that of the persons closest to him, broke his body and his soul.  Frank, sincere, loyal and courageous, he showed that he was more than a servant and that such a master was worthy to have such an assistant.”

“I was a personal friend of the man and it is with great pleasure that I conserve for posterity the memory of him by this faithful portrait.”

With Napoleon in Russia:  The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812; Edited by Jonathan North




A Helping Hand

There aren’t many paintings of the army on the march during the advance into Russia, most are on the better known retreat.  By marching, I mean moving in mass along the road.  One exception is Albrecht Adam‘s painting of a scene he witnessed.

General Pino’s Division on the March
16 July 1812
by Albrecht Adam

General Pino’s Division on the March
“Despite the Viceroy’s [Prince Eugène de Beauharnais] every effort to preserve order in his corps [IV], and to seek to maintain the troops well fed and in condition, there were many soldiers who, as they marched through the deserts of Lithuania, were subject to the most cruel privations.  The burden of want fell, in particular, on Pino’s division as this unit was acting as rearguard.  There was no lack of meat but the scarcity of bread was greatly felt.  Soldiers were soon reduced to such a state that you could see them literally collapse by the roadside unable to continue despite their every effort.”

“One evening as we trotted alongside a column of Italians dragging itself along, we saw one such unfortunate collapse into the dusty sands of the road.  A grenadier, who had been marching next to him, vainly sought to persuade his comrade to move.  Finally, an officer, mounted on a poor pony, arrived and convinced the man to march on to the next shelter.  Taking the soldier’s haversack, and that of the grenadier, he trotted on whilst the grenadier, carrying his musket as well as his own, supported his exhausted comrade.  The two of them staggered on as the column continued its lugubrious march.”

“I could not resist sketching such a moving scene.”

Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812; Edited by Jonathan North

The Viceroy of Italy’s Camp

This account from Albrecht Adam describes some of the conditions faced on the march.

The Viceroy of Italy’s Camp,
Night of 8 to 9 July 1812
by Albrecht Adam

The Viceroy of Italy’s Camp, Wielke-Solezniki
“On the 8th we were hit by such a terrible storm that the Viceroy [Prince Eugène de Beauharnais] and his entire staff were obliged to call a halt to their march along the main road even though they were but three miles from Imperial Headquarters.  They did this in an attempt to escape the torrential rain.  Horses could make no further progress and anyone attempting to ride soon ground to a halt.  Eventually, the march was resumed and we arrived at Headquarters soaked to the skin and absolutely exhausted.  Fortunately, a beautiful summer’s evening gave us respite and this probably persuaded the Viceroy to sleep beneath the stars rather than risk a night in a dirty house prey to vermin.”

“One of the Prince’s aides-de-camp, General Triaire, lies next to him on a simple wooden bed with a mattress of straw.  A soldier from the Guards of Honour stands sentinel next to the fire.”

Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812; Edited by Jonathan North

Land of Enchantment

Albrecht Adam made an interesting observation about how the army viewed the poor conditions in a new light because they were the conquerors:

Kroni, Headquarters
1 July 1812
by Albrecht Adam

Kroni, Headquarters

“No sooner had we crossed the river than we seemed to exist in another atmosphere.  The roads were as bad as they had been, the forests just as sad and the villages even more deserted, but we, animated by the imagination of conquerors, beheld everything with enchantment.”

“After a two-hour march across muddy terrain we arrived at the village of Kroni with its wooden chateau and houses.  That might be the last time I make such an observation because all Russian villages were so constructed.  We found brandy in the village and the soldiers pillaged it with avidity.  As there were no Jews here, the place was deserted and this fact made us realize that the enemy were intent on creating a desert of the region we were passing through – man and beast had been evacuated.”

Napoleon’s army in Russia; The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812, Edited by Jonathan North

The Death of the Horses

Soon after crossing he Niemen, a storm hit which caused the death of many of the horses which the Grande Armée counted on so heavily.  One officer counted 1,200 dead horses on the road leading to Vilna before he stopped counting.  Albrecht Adam, who was attached to Prince Eugène‘s IV Corps as a civilian, painted the scene and wrote the following account:

Near Pilony, by the Niemen
29 June 1812
by Albrecht Adam

Near Pilony, by the Niemen
“The Viceroy’s [Eugène] quarters were located in this appalling village.  We were all lodged in horrible huts, barely sheltered from the insults of the weather.  Food was now scarce and the rain fell in torrents, drenching the men and the horses.  Deprived of adequate shelter, the former made the best of the situation but the latter, weakened by their exertions on the impassable roads, succumbed in droves.  They collapsed in their hundreds by our camp.  Alongside the roads, in the fields, there were piles of dead horses and hundreds of abandoned carts and the scattered contents of the baggage trains.”

“In July we felt the cold, the rain and the pangs of want.  Because of the lack of forage the horses were being fed on green corn, trampled down by the rain.  The poor creatures ate their fill but, shortly afterwards, collapsed dead.”

“I have tried to capture this morbid scene in the plate [above]”

With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812; Edited by Jonathan North