Tag Archives: artillery

Was it the Horseshoes?

When studying the destruction of the Grande Armée in Russia, it is sometimes tempting to look for a single error, a surprisingly minor oversight that if corrected would have made an enormous change in the outcome of the event – What if…

Fellow blogger Alice Shepperson (Noon Observation) tackles the question: Was it really the lack of winter horseshoes that led to the destruction of the Grande Armée on the retreat from Russia?  Here’s Alice:

Winter Horseshoes
Note the Four Raised Points

In a recent BBC documentary, Bullets, Boots and Bandages, historian Saul David argued that a major reason for the disastrous nature of the retreat from Moscow was Napoleon’s failure to bring winter horseshoes or frost nails – spikes designed to give horses grip on ice. “This tiny logistical oversight,” argues David, “was to cost him dear.” He backs this up with statements from professional farriers about the effects this would have had on the horses: their shoes gave them no traction on up-hills and no brakes on down-hills. This was certainly a problem. Adolphe Thiers describes the plight

Frost Nails

of the French artillery horses after they left Moscow: “Flogged until they were covered with blood, and their knees torn with frequent falling, they were found incapable of overcoming ordinary obstacles, through loss of strength and want of means to prevent their slipping on the ice.” But was this really the cause of the army’s destruction?

French Horse-Drawn Artillery

It certainly destroyed some of it. Robert Wilson, who had been seconded to the Imperial Russian Army wrote on the November 5th that “some Cossacks … seeing a gun and several tumbrils at the bottom of a ravine, with the horses lying on the ground, dismounted, and taking up the feet of several, hallooed, ran, … danced, and made fantastic gestures like crazy men … they pointed to the horses’ shoes and said— ” God has made Napoleon forget that there was a winter in our country…” It was soon ascertained that all horses of the enemy’s army were in the same improperly-shod state, except those of the Polish corps, and the Emperor’s own.”

But in order to determine the importance of this, we should consider what these horses were actually pulling…

Artillery certainly required horsepower, and guns and ammunition were some of the first things that the army started discarding. Was artillery needed in the retreat? Yes, for defence against the enemy, but there is no particular incident in which the French were crippled by lack of guns or ammo. Cannon could certainly not prevent soldiers dying of hunger or cold, which were the major killers.

Wounded men were another burden, and to his credit, Napoleon tried to cram as many as possible onto the army’s wagons, often much to the annoyance of their drivers. There were also non-military personnel to be carried, such as the artists and musicians Napoleon brought with him, and some of the numerous women, and even children, who followed the army. The loss of wagons would have had a terrible effect on the prospects of the wounded and non-combatants, but these people (though it seems heartless) were not essential to the continued cohesion or existence of the Grand Armée.

Many of the 40,000 or so carts that left Moscow however, were filled with loot and officers’ baggage. Colonel Count Roguet reported that, “for nearly forty miles I had to pick my way through the army’s procession of horse-drawn vehicles. Every one was laden with useless baggage.” The plunder included paintings, chandeliers and entire libraries. All were gradually jettisoned, making a lot of pursuing Cossacks extremely rich, but not destroying the French.

Essentially, having adequate horse-drawn transport only makes a difference to the health and wellbeing of soldiers if there are useful stores to move. By the time the roads became icy in late October, an overabundance of supplies was not really a problem for the French. Captain Roeder said after the battle of Maloyaroslavets, “the whole army was now living almost entirely on horse flesh.” Others speak of foraging cabbage stalks or hempseed from abandoned farms or making soup using tallow (used to lubricate rifles). There were even instances of cannibalism. If there had been food in the carts, the chances are it would have been taken by force by the starving men, as happened when the first units reached the warehouses in Smolensk.

Horsepower did not in fact give out totally. When the Berezina was reached on the 26th November, General Jean Baptiste Eblé still had the crucial forges, charcoal and sapper tools needed to build two trestle bridges, and there was enough artillery to cover the rearguard action and protect the crossing. Even this late in the retreat there were horses and wagons enough to transport these essentials.

So if the demise of horse-powered transport was not to blame for the army’s privations, what was?

The Grande Armée was so ill-prepared for a winter retreat, that horseshoes were just a tiny drop in the ocean of its deficiencies. As well as lacking food and fodder, they lacked winter clothing. Boris Uxkull, a Russian cavalry officer, remarked in his journal on November 12th that among the French prisoners “you see the most peculiar clothes – cuirassiers with feet wrapped up in sheets and rags, cannoneers in women’s clothes and muffs”.  Some even blame the disaster on the tin buttons that Napoleon “foolishly” used, which may have turned to dust at around -30°C. Nor did the army have tents, Napoleon believing that, “tents are unfavourable to health. The soldier is best when he bivouacs… A few planks and a morsel of straw shelter him from the wind.” This was all very well in wooded, densely inhabited Europe where other shelter was available, but on the exposed Russian plains, soldiers needed more than a bit of straw to keep warm.

Scott’s Ponies

It’s important to remember that neither men nor horses do well in temperatures below -20°C, whether they’re wearing the right shoes or not. Look what happened to Captain Scott’s ponies exactly 100 years later, though they had been carefully selected from Siberian stock and supplied with the latest snowshoes and goggles. When constant Cossack attacks are added to the harsh conditions, it seems likely that these external factors had a far greater destructive effect than the want of winter horseshoes.

Pony Snowshoes

But isn’t the basic problem that Napoleon never intended to conduct a prolonged campaign through the Russian winter? His mistake, therefore, was to march his army all the way to Moscow, not packing the wrong food, uniforms, buttons or horseshoes.

The nail (tee-hee) in the coffin of the horseshoe theory is that the Russians often didn’t have the right ones either. Uxkull complains on October 24th that “our horses, which have no shoes, slip on the frozen ground and fall down, never to get up again. The artillery especially is suffering a lot.” The difference was that they weren’t a thousand miles into hostile enemy territory beyond the reach of supplies.

Alice Shepperson, the writer of today’s blog post, is also the writer of her own blog, Noon Observation, a humorous and informative look at various history topics.  I highly recommend a visit and signing up to follow her blog.

“A Terrible Effort Every Single Day”

Faber du Faur painted two scenes dated November 7.  Both dedicated to showing the effects the recent snow had upon the army.

Between Dorogobouye and Mikalevka,
7 November
by Faber du Faur

Between Dorogobouye and Mikalevka, 7 November
“The order had been given for us to turn off the Kaluga road and make our way to the Smolensk-Moscow road.  Until that point, despite the numerous difficulties we had encountered along near impassable roads – difficulties that often led to losses of men, horses and caissons – we had, at least, always managed to find some food.  We had, too, always marched as a disciplined body and had not lost a gun, despite fighting in some particularly bloody engagements.  But now we found ourselves in a land already stripped by both ourselves and our enemies.”

“Even so, we still hoped to reach Smolensk before the furies of winter fell upon us – Smolensk, where we would find well-stocked magazines and shelter, where Victor and his corps, placed in reserve, would bid us a warm welcome.  Therefore, led by our hope, we traversed the field of Borodino, marched through Gjatsk and, on the 3rd, pushed through the Russians at Viasma.  However, on the 5th and 6th the sky grew overcast and there were occasional flurries of snow.  On the 7th a massive snowstorm robbed us of the day and announced the true arrival of the Russian winter.  We struggled forward, unsure of where we were or who surrounded us.  The furious storm blew huge flakes of ice into our faces – flakes which soon settled and sought to obstruct our march.  The horses found the going difficult on the icy surface and gave up  Convoys and, for the first time, cannon were abandoned.  The road began to be littered with frozen bodies, and these, soon covered with a snowy winding sheet, formed small mounds.  This was all that was to remain of so many of our comrades-in-arms.”

“The Russian winter finished off what the starvation, exhaustion and retreat had been unable to accomplish.  The army disbanded and melted away.  Now it resembled a rabble – men of all arms, of all army corps, marching in small bands or alone.  They had not deliberately abandoned their flags, but cold and an instinct for self-preservation made men quit their units.  Continuing the march was a terrible effort every single day; for the gunners it was especially tough as they tried to look after their horses and save their guns.  The most terrible part, though, was the night – sixteen hours of darkness, camped in the snow, without food, without a fire.  The first such winter camp was that at Mikalevka, on the night of the 7th.”

Camp Near Mikalevka,
7 November
by Faber du Faur

Camp Near Mikalevka, 7 November
The fatal retreat had begun.  The ancient city of the Czars was nothing but a heap of smouldering rubble and eyes had turned westwards towards far-off homelands.  Whilst the sky had been serene and our feet trod upon firm earth, all had gone well.  Our thin garments had protected us from autumnal breezes, we found food in villages, and the soldiers, even when suffering, had hope of better things to come.  But the sky clouded over, the snow fell and the icy North came down upon us with all its attendant furies.  The road disappeared and, for as far as one could see, a sheet of white stretched to the horizon.  The faithful gunners made incredible efforts to save their pieces; they buried  those they could no longer drag with them.”

“After a day in which we had suffered as never before, we reached a village and came across some snow-covered huts.  Some of our comrades had preceded us and sought out shelter for us.  But all was quiet and we assumed they had now abandoned the huts and resumed their march.  As we drew nearer, however, we came across corpses frozen stiff and saw in their fate our own destiny.  We sought to brace ourselves for all the future could hurl against us, but the sinister end to the first day of winter marked but the start of our woe.”

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

The Death of General Lariboisière’s Son

General Jean-Ambroise Baston Lariboisière was in command of all of the artillery of the Grande Armée on the campaign.  His two sons, Honoré and Ferdinand were both with the army in Russia.  Honoré was one of his Aides-de-Camp while Ferdinand served as a lieutenant in the 1st company of the 1st squadron in the 1st Carabiniers-à-Cheval regiment.

General Lariboisiere and his son
By Antoine-Jean Gros
Musée de l’Armée

On the morning of the Battle of Borodino, Ferdinand’s unit rode past where General Lariboisière was positioned.  Father and son had a few moments to spend together, a scene that was captured in Antoine-Jean Gros‘ painting.

From the website Napoleon.org: “Although the painting sits squarely in a military context – Gros chooses to depict the moment as the young man passes by his father’s command post, just before charging off into the Battle of the Borodino, on 7 September, 1812 – this is just a pretext for what is in actual fact a very private moment of familial attachment. The worry on the two subjects’ faces is clear to see. The way in which the father clasps his son’s hand tight to his body is deeply moving, without ever becoming overly dramatic or mawkishly sentimental. Seated on a canon support, his medals pinned to his division general uniform, Lariboisière ceases in this moment to be the artillery officer thinking of the battle ahead. The plans of attack hang limply from his right hand. He is simply a father, with his son by his side, considering the unhappy fate that lies in store for them. Standing out from the background behind them and the clear sky above, Ferdinand, looking particularly dashing in his uniform, appears less fatalistic. But the left-hand side of the painting betrays the drama that is about to unfold: a dark, foreboding sky hangs over and the young man’s white steed awaits him, clasped by a carabineer officer. The terror in the horse’s eyes mirror the horror of the combat taking place all around them. ”

Charge of the Carabiniers
by Marck Churms

Ferdinand rode into battle where he was mortally wounded.  He lingered for five days.  Lt. Nicolas Louis Planat, an ADC of the general and friend of the general’s other son, Honoré, wrote, “Although I’d known him but slightly, I’d taken a great liking to him.  There was something gay, chivalrous and generous about him, which pleased everybody.  A charming young man, as frank and loyal as could be.  Truly born to the military estate, he’d just come from the pages.  I believe he was hardly eighteen years old.”

The headquarters staff prepared to leave Borodino on September 12.  General Lariboisière delayed leaving for a few hours to spend more time with his dying son.  Finally he had to leave and asked Planat to stay, “… until his last moment.  About 4 pm the poor young fellow, who’d been groaning from his wound ever since morning, began to rattle and suffer convulsive spasms that heralded his end.  Ferdinand then opened his eyes a moment, put one arm around my neck and, a moment afterwards, died.”

Planat informed the father,  “The general squeezed my hand and a few moments later left to rejoin the Emperor.”  Planat was entrusted with the funeral arrangements and, later that night, received a note from Honoré instructing him to preserve his brother’s heart.

“After allowing twenty-four hours to pass, Gudolle opened up the corpse and, in my presence, extracted the heart, for me a very terrible and dolorous spectacle. This heart was placed in a little beaker of spirits of wine…”

The body was placed in a coffin, “… nailed together by the workmen of the Engineer Corps.  In it I enclosed a scroll of strong paper, on which I’d written these words: ‘The body of Ferdinand Gaston de Lariboisière, lieutenant of Carabiniers, killed at the Battle of the Moscowa, Sept. 1812.  His father recommends his remains to the public piety.’  The funeral took place at nightfall, without any religious ceremony, we not having a priest with us.  A detachment of 25 gunners commanded by a lieutenant escorted the coffin.  To secure it from any profanation we’d dug a ditch in the old town wall, of Tartar construction, which was in ruins.  Enormous stone blocks had been displaced and were afterwards put back again on top of the coffin, with such are it was impossible to see what had been done.  Yet if I were to visit Mojaisk I could still point to the spot where Ferdinand is buried.”

Planat sent a lock of Ferdinand’s hair to his brother along with his heart and belongings.

General Lariboisière himself did not have much longer to live.  Although he survived the retreat, he died in Königsberg on December 21, 1812.  He is buried in the church of Les Invalides.  The general’s heart and that of his son are kept in the chapel at the Château de Monthorin in Louvigné-du-Désert (Brittany).

Sources: 1812: Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, by Paul Britten Austin, p. 325


The Russian withdrawal from Smolensk

Ilya Radozhitskii was a Russian artillery officer who served during the campaign of 1812 and wrote his memoirs after the war.  He describes the Russian withdrawal after Smolensk:

During the night of 7 [19] August the 1st Army moved from Smolensk in two columns: the left, consisting of the 5th and 6th Infantry Corps and two cavalry corps, moved on a safer road through the village of Prudische while the right, consisting of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Corps with a rearguard under General [Fedor] Korf, was ordered to proceed across a hilly countryside, following the road through Krakhotkino and Zhabino to Bredikhino in order to get to the main [Moscow] road, which was protected by General Tuchkov III’s detachment in front of the village of Lubino.

At 9 p.m. on 6 [18] August my unit set off with the right column from Smolensk, marching through the night of 7 [19] August across hills and ravines covered with dense shrubs. The night was dark and damp. At dawn, sleep overcame me so I sat on a gun carriage and, leaning my head against the carriage, gave myself away to sweet dreams. Just as my cannon descended on a slope, English Lord Wilson happened to be passing by and saw how the gunners held me so I did not fall off the carriage, and upon seeing the General, began to wake me up. The venerable Lord saw all of it and admiring the gunners’ care for their officer. He gave them a sign with his hand to let me sleep. When I woke, they told me about the kind “red” general who, as I learned later, was an Englishman assigned to our Commander-in-Chief and tasked by the [British] envoy to serve as an observer [to the Russian army].

At dawn on 7 [19] August we approached the main road, where General Tuchkov’s detachment waited for us, and heard a cannonade coming from behind us. It was Prince of Wurttemberg’s division from the 2nd Corps, engaging the French at the village of Gorbunovo, which the French had captured, thereby cutting off the rearguard of General Korf. The French then turned to the main road and advanced towards General Tuchkov’s detachment, which held positions between the villages of Toporovshina and Latynina on the Stragan’ Rivulet. The enemy engaged this detachment before the 2nd Corps, which was delayed at Gorbunovo, managed to get to the main road. Meanwhile we were moving with the 4th Corps, ahead of the 2nd Corps, and had already passed the village of Lubino when we were turned back to reinforce General Tuchkov’s detachment, which the French engaged so vigorously that it was forced to retreat across the Stragan’ Rivulet.

By 3 o’clock in the afternoon the battle intensified. A ferocious firefight was being waged in the brush all along the line. Because of the smoke that rose incessantly from musket fire, the brush seemed to be on fire. For several hours the French had tried in vain to break through our center. A murderous rain of lead claimed many victims. Skirmishers could hardly see each other and Death stealthily claimed the brave souls. The attacking enemy columns were annihilated by the canister rounds fired by our batteries as well as the bayonets of our grenadiers. Meanwhile, the French [VIII] Corps of General Junot, accompanied by numerous cavalry, appeared on the hill against our left flank. Our 4th Corps was immediately moved to face this new threat.

Staff-Captain [Alexander] Figner, as the commander of 3rd Light Artillery Company, was still in reserve when the regiments of our corps moved left and up the hill. However, he understood that we would be soon committed to the battle and ordered the available wine rations to be given to his artillery crews. He borrowed this method of maintaining soldiers’ courage from the French, who, upon falling into our hands, usually carried rum or vodka instead of water, in the canister behind their knapsacks… After wishing his gun crews success in victory, Figner went ahead, out of ordinary curiosity, to observe the battle but soon returned and ordered everyone to mount the gun carriages and caissons at once. We quickly rode to the left flank but had to pass through swamp that delayed our movement. Having moved through the marsh, our guns began to ascend a steep hill, where a cavalry melee was taking place. We could hear a rumbling noise, shouting and occasional cannon fire. Suddenly to the left of us, the Cossacks descended the hill; some of them quickly turned back but three Cossacks kept descending, accompanying a fat Württemberg trumpeter who was unhorsed. He wore a blue uniform with red lapels and big boots, which occasionally tripped him. The poor lad had probably blown his trumpet too much since he was bathed in sweat and red-faced as usually happens after a lot of work. But he seemed to be proud of the fact that three Cossacks were assigned to escort him.

Climbing up the hill, we observed a rather curious spectacle. The Pernovskii Regiment stood in line on the top of hill, with six of our cannon on its right flank while the remaining guns had to remain on the slope because of a lack of space. In front of the Pernovskii Regiment, we could see blue, red, gray and green hussars deployed, by squadrons and with horse artillery guns, in the brush. The cavalry melee unfolded before our eyes. It was fascinating to see how a few squadrons of French hussars charged at our horsemen, who fled at full gallop before receiving reinforcements, turned around and drove the French back. Only shrapnel and bullets stopped their charges but as they recalled, they were again attacked and pursued by the French. Such fighting resembled the knightly tournaments: some cavalrymen fell from their horses; some, finding themselves amidst the enemy, were waving their sabers; one shot his pistol, the other hacked [with his saber] at the enemy; horses crashed into each other, became frenzied and rushed away… To the right of the hill Prince Gurielov was with the Polotskii Infantry Regiment, deployed in woods that covered the hill slopes. At one point he moved forward from the woods to attack the enemy cavalry’s flank but quickly faced a similar threat and was forced to stop.

Figner’s cannon remained idle because they had to shoot through our own men. Meanwhile, as I observed the overall course of the battle, I noticed French infantry on our right flank, which was moving through the brush at the bottom of the hill. The French drove our jagers back. I rushed to inform Figner about this, emphasizing the consequences if the French managed to get behind us. He told me to take six guns, descend from the hill and move to the main road while he followed me with the remaining guns. I was delayed by the swamp at the bottom of the hill and managed to move five guns before the sixth got stuck in the swamp. As they came out of the brush, the [French] skirmishers stumbled

Re-enactors portray a Russian Artillery crew

directly upon my guns. Upon seeing my cannon so close to them, the French rushed towards me. Their bullets began to buzz sharply above us and the tight space and difficult terrain prevented me from deploying for action so I decided to hasten towards the main road. The crackling of musket fire and smoke kept approaching us; bullets began to pierce our gunners, horses and strike at gun carriages…. Our jagers, with muskets in arms and leaning, hurried to hide from the deadly lead behind my guns. Their officer shouted to them, “Where are you going, lads? Come back, please, you should be ashamed!” But nobody listened to him. Suddenly Generals – Commander-in-Chief Barclay de Tolly, accompanied by Lord [Robert] Wilson, Count [Alexander] Kutaisov, Osterman, Orlov, Korf and others – appeared in front of us. They all shouted at the fleeing men, “Where are you going! Stop! Turn back!” The soldiers stopped and turned back. The Commander-in-Chief rode up to me and asked sternly, “Where did you come from?” – “From there” I replied, pointing to the hill on the left. And he went onwards. The generals were followed by dense columns of grenadiers from Count Arakcheyev’s Leib-Grenadier and Yekaterinoslavskiii Grenadier Regiments: these were tall fellows with pale faces, holding their muskets at the ready and marching at a brisk pace to meet death. With the cry of “Hurrah!” they charged into the brush and restored order with bayonets. Five minutes later, many of them, bloodied and half dead, returned leaning on the shoulders of their comrades … It was impossible not to shudder as one witnessed the withering of the finest colors of the Russian might.

The fast approaching darkness failed to end the ferocious battle. Despite our persistence, the French continued to fight until midnight ignoring the heavy casualties they suffered. They lost a general of division [Charles Etienne Gudin] who was killed, but in return captured General [Pavel] Tuchkov,[1] which caused our skirmishers to flee. General Konovnitsyn and his grenadiers, however, managed to save the day and hold the ground.

After my departure, Staff Captain Figner remained behind with six guns, with the Pernovskii Regiment on the left flank. His personal courage saved my cannon which had been mired in the swamp. We witnessed his gallantry. Upon observing from the hill top that the French had driven our skirmishers out of the brush and could capture the mired gun, he descended from the hill with a saber and pistol in hand. His commanding voice rallied the fleeing soldiers. Figner managed to gather about 15 men whom he hid in the woods. As the crowd [tolpa] of French, shouting incessantly “Avance! Avance!,” approached the ambush, Figner ordered his men to fire a volley and then rushed with a naked saber and pistol towards the officer who led the French, grabbed him and threatened to kill him [if he did not surrender]. This surprise attack completely stopped the French – the officer surrendered while his men showed their backs to us. As Figner dragged the officer, the chevalier of the Legion of Honour, by the collar, he came across the Commander-in-Chief who, having learned of Figner’s feat, immediately congratulated him with a promotion to captain. We were all thrilled by the feat and congratulated Figner. He unexpectedly became unusually contemplative and withdrawn and did not want to do anything in the company, leaving it to me as the next senior officer.

The gun and musket fire of this combat had such an effect on me. As well the fleeing skirmishers and the proximity of danger so frightened me that I kept hearing gunfire throughout the night even though there was none, and still envisioned the blackened skinny French skirmishers who pursued our jagers. The recently experienced fever and continued exposure to the horrors of war affected my mind. Besides, having marched for over thirty verstas [20 miles] on very poor roads in darkness since yesterday evening, we spent the entire day on our feet and in the midst of battle only to continue retreating throughout the night. I was not the only one exhausted by such exertion and both men and horses barely trudged along.

After the battle, we stopped for about two hours at our main headquarters, crossed the Brovenka River at night and joined the rest of the army at Lubino before resuming our retreat. On 8 [20] August, we crossed the Dnieper at the Solovyevo crossing. This location was very important to us and if they had anticipated our move, the French would have caused us plenty of harm. The riverbanks here are low lying, sandy and covered on both sides with small woods that are quite disadvantageous for defending against an enemy. We stopped for the night four verstas [2.5 miles] from the crossing.

From there on, the French pursuit eased off as the most recent fights had cooled their ardor. Besides, it was said that Napoleon was still at Smolensk, pondering [what to do next.]

At dawn of the following day, 1st Army’s entire artillery concentrated into a general park before moving to the Moscow River. We marched by companies where possible and passed each other by as we moved. The dust and heat were intolerable. Artillery spanned six rows on the wide road, which was so ploughed over [by carriages] that in some places we walked knee-deep in finely ground dirt that felt like powder; while the wheels rolled without making any noise. The entire artillery park was commanded by Colonel Voyeikov. For several verstas back and forth one could not see anything but artillery and baggage trains, moving in dense clouds of dust that kept rising to the sky. We walked as if shrouded in fog; the sun seemed purple and neither the greenery by the side of the road nor the paint on gun carriages could be discerned. Soldiers were covered from head to toe in gray dust, and our faces and hands were black from dust and sweat. We swallowed and breathed the dust. As the heat tormented us with thirst, we could not find any refreshments. In such miserable conditions we happened to pass by a crowd of French prisoners, who had been captured in the last battle and were happy to see us hastily retreating. They mockingly told us that we would not get away from Napoleon because they now made up the vanguard of his army.

I must admit that our soldiers became very disheartened after the battle at Smolensk. The blood that had been shed in the ruins of Smolensk, all the effort made to resist the enemy as well as retreating on the Moscow road into the depths of Russia itself had made each and every one of us feel powerless against our terrible conqueror. Each of us witnessed heartrending visions of perishing Fatherland. Residents from nearby villages ran to us, leaving the greater part of their positions to their friends and enemies. Burning villages were behind and all around us, announcing the approaching French troops. The Cossacks destroyed everything that was left behind following the passage of our troops so that the enemy found only barren and desolate land everywhere. Thus, desperate Russia tormented her own womb.

[1] General Pavel Tuchkov commanded a brigade in the 17th Division of the 2nd Corps and was tasked with defending a road junction at Lubino/Valutina Gora. During the battle, he led a counterattack with the Ekaterinoslavskii Grenadier Regiment but was captured after receiving a bayonet wound to the abdomen and several saber cuts to the head. He was well treated by Marshal Alexander Berthier and eventually met Napoleon, who had him transported to Metz, where Tuchkov remained until early 1814

The above account is from Alexander Mikaberidze’s translation of Ilya Radozhitskii’s Campaign Memoirs.  Tolstoy consulted Radozhitskii’s memoirs when writing War and Peace.  Many thanks to Alex for generously providing this blog post.

Bloggers Note:  This is the 100th post of this blog (including 13 re-posts from 2011).  Thank you to everyone reading out there and to James Fisher and Alex Mikaberidze for providing material for blog posts ˜ Scott Armstrong

A Crowded Road

The purpose of this blog is to tell about what daily life on the campaign was like for the soldiers who experienced it.  Two things that are often overlooked are the fact that the French made up only about half of the 500,000 strong Grandé Armée.  The rest was made up of countries that had been conquered by France and its allies.

The other is that Russia didn’t have a lot of roads.  Marching a few hundred thousand soldiers (with wagons, artillery, cavalry, etc….) down the same narrow, unpaved road and there are bound to be disputes that break down among national lines.  Following is an account from an unnamed artillery lieutenant serving with troops from Würtemberg [Confederation of the Rhine, now part of Germany] in Ney’s IIIrd Corps:

Wurttemberg artillery piece

“Not only the 3rd Corps was on the march, but often the Imperial Guard as well and sometimes several other corps, all on the same road which, on top of all this, was frequently almost impassable for artillery.  As a result serious disagreements were caused every day by the extreme difficulty in observing a regular order of march.  The artillery was particularly bad in this respect, because if anything broke on a wagon or a gun, or if a horse had to be unharnessed on account of exhaustion, the vehicle in question would be cut off by the troops behind, and it was perhaps evening before it reached the bivouac and could rejoin its battery.  Under these circumstances the French infantry were so unpleasant and brutal that their officers, so as to prevent an unfortunate, godforsaken gun from travelling near, let alone in front of them, would more often than not have bayonets leveled at the leading horses and strike the soldiers of the train.  On our side this behavior aroused intense hatred and bitterest resentment…”

The officer wrote that his brigade often marched on the flank of the corps and sometimes, the artillery would not be able to follow them the whole way and would be obliged to return to the main road.

“…When we did this, nobody wanted to let us into the column, and we had to try and secure a tiny place on the road by dint of asking pleasantly, sometimes with insults and oaths, often at sword-point.  I can honestly say that none of the hardships and dangers of this campaign irked me half as much as this daily bickering and squabbling on the march.  As I was the only officer in the battery who spoke French, it always fell to me to conduct these wrangles.”

Source: 1812: Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia by Antony Brett-James