Tag Archives: Dorogobush

All Struggling Forward in the Same Direction

Faber du Faur’s unit was given three days rest after the battle of Valutino-Gora.  But once camp was broken, conditions became harsh and du Faur’s description of them is almost the same as Jakob Walter’s during the same period.

Here is du Faur’s description which accompanies his painting: “After our three-day halt at Valutina-Gora, we broke camp on the 23rd and followed the Russian army, making arduous marches along the main road and braving the heat and enormous clouds of dust, and being jostled by swarms of other troops all struggling forward in the same direction.”

Between Dorogobouye and Slavkovo, 27 August
by Faber du Faur
Note the weary expressions on the men around the fire and the oriental look of the building in the background

“Thus it was that, in the afternoon of the 26th, we reached Dorogobouye on the left bank of the Dnepr; this town was, like Smolensk and so many others, the victim of flames and was soon reduced to ashes.  We only remained here a few hours, and camped a few miles further on, continuing our march, on the 27th, towards Viasma.  Swarms of stragglers, who either could not keep up or who were charged with obtaining food, milled about and bore stark witness to the disorder besetting the army.  The disappearance of the Jews and the oriental appearance of the architecture indicated that we were now gracing the soil of ancient Muscovy.”

“If Only My Mother Had Not Borne Me!” – The pursuit of the Russians after Smolensk

Jakob Walter describes the conditions endured as the French pursued the retreating Russians after Smolensk:  “On August 19, the entire army moved forward, and pursued the Russians with all speed.  Four or five hours farther up the river another battle started, but the enemy did not hold out long, and the march now led to Moshaisk, the so-called ‘Holy Valley.’  From Smolensk to Moshaisk the war displayed its horrible work of destruction:  all the roads,

fields, and woods lay as though sown with people, horses, wagons, burned villages and cities; everything looked like the complete ruin of all that lived.  In particular, we saw ten dead Russians to one of our men, although every day our numbers fell off considerably.  In order to pass through woods, swamps, and narrow trails, trees which formed barriers in the woods had to be removed, and wagon barricades of the enemy had to be cleared away.  In such numbers were the Russians lying around that it seemed as if they were all dead.  The cities in the meantime were Dorogobush, Semlevo, Viasma, and Gshatsk.  The march up to there, as far as it was a march, is indescribable and inconceivable for people who have not seen anything of it.  The very great heat, the dust which was like a thick fog, the closed line of march in columns, and the putrid water from holes filled with dead people, and cattle brought everyone close to death; and eye pains, fatigue, thirst, and hunger tormented everybody.  God!  how often I remembered the bread and beer which I had enjoyed at home with such an indifferent pleasure!  Now, however, I must struggle, half wild, with the dead and living.  How gladly would I renounce for my whole life the warm food so common at home if I only did not lack good bread and beer now!  I would not wish for more all my life.  But these were empty, helpless thoughts.  Yes, the thought of my brothers and sisters so far away added to my pain!  Wherever I looked, I saw the soldiers with dead, half-desperate faces.  Many cried out in despair, ‘If only my mother had not borne me!’  Some demoralized men even cursed their parents and their birth.”

“These voices, however, raised my soul to God, and I often spoke in quietude, ‘God, Thou canst save me; but, if it is not Thy will, I hope that my sins will be forgiven because of my sufferings and pains and that my soul will ascend to Thee.’  With such thoughts I went on trustingly to meet my fate.’