Tag Archives: Dr. Dominique Jean Larrey

“Let Me See My Family Again For One Hour!”

December 8 and 9, 1812 were the coldest of the retreat.  Accounts of this time detail the misery of those who had struggled on so far as the cold reached new depths.  The goal was to reach Vilna with its supposed stocked warehouses and shelter from the cold.  But the men were wary, having experienced the disappointment of Smolensk when the stores and shelter there were inadequate.

Retreat Scene from Russian-French Warby Bogdan Willewalde

Retreat Scene from Russian-French War
by Bogdan Willewalde

Lieutenant Albrecht von Muraldt wrote about how his companions were reacting: “Some wept and whimpered.  Others, totally stupefied, didn’t utter a sound.  Many behaved like lunatics, especially at the sign of a rousing fire or when, after starving for several days, they got something to eat.  Only very few indeed were still themselves.”

Surgeon-General Dominique Jean Larrey wrote about the effects of the cold on the starving men: “The muscular action became noticeably weaker. Individuals staggered like drunken men.  Their weakness grew progressively until the subject fell – a sure sign that life was totally extinct.”  Men who couldn’t keep up had to get to the side of the road, where, lacking the support of their comrades, would fall.  “Instantly they were stricken by a painful stupor, from which they went into a state of lethargic stupor, and in a few moments they’d ended their painful existence.  Often, before death, there was an involuntary emission of urine.”

Alexander Bellot de Kergorre wrote: “The habit of seeing them grow weaker enabled us to predict the moment when an individual would fall down and die.  As soon as a man began to totter you could be sure he was lost.  Still he went on a little way, as if drunk, his body still leaning forward.  Then he fell on his face.  A few drops of blood oozed from his nose.  And he expired.  In the same instant his limbs became like bars of iron.”

Dead in the Snowby Ferdinand Boissard

Dead in the Snow
by Ferdinand Boissard

As the temperature only a few miles from Vilna drops to -28° Réaumur (-35° C, -31° F),  Major C.F.M. Le Roy says the following prayer: “My God, I who find such happiness in living and admiring your beautiful sun, accord me the mercy of once again being warmed by him and not leaving my wretched remains in this barbarous icy country!  Let me see my family again for one hour!  Only one hour!  I’ll die content.  I’ve never asked anything of you, God, as you know!  I’ve only thanked you in all circumstances, happy or unhappy, as they’ve befallen me.  But this one’s beyond my strength, and if you don’t come to my aid I’m going to succumb under its weight.”

Source:
1812: The Great Retreat, Paul Britten Austin, pp 361 – 364

The Wounded of Borodino are Left Behind

As the army passed by the field of the great battle, Surgeon-General Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey observed that the wounded, “… were squatting in a stinking infectious barn, surrounded on all sides by corpses, almost never receiving any rations and obliged to eat cabbage stalks boiled with horseflesh to escape the horrors of famine.  Because of a severe shortage of linen, their wounds had seldom been dressed.  ”

Napoleon ordered that the wounded be loaded onto carts and 200 Württembergers were set to the task.  Surgeon Heinrich von Roos noted, “The order was carried out in the most punctilious fashion, and wall was finished in an hour and a half.  Every carriage, whether it belonged to a marshal or a colonel, every wagon, every cantinière‘s cart or droschka had to take one or two.”

“However good the Emperor’s intentions, it turned out badly for the poor wounded.  They fell into the hands of crude-minded coachmen, insolent valets, brutal sutlers, enriched and arrogant women, brothers-in-arms without pity, and all the riff-raff of the train.  All these people only had one idea: how to get rid of their wounded.”

General Armand de Caulaincourt of Napoleon’s staff wrote, “[I had never seen] a sight so horrible as our army’s march 48 hours after Mojaisk.  Every heart was closed to pity by fear of starvation, of losing the overladen vehicles, of seeing the starving exhausted horses die.  I still shudder when I tell you I’ve seen men deliberately drive their horses at speed over rough ground, so as to get rid of the unfortunates overburdening them.  Though they knew the horses would mutilate them or the wheels crush them, they’d smile triumphantly, even so, when a jolt freed them from one of these poor wretches.  Every man thought of himself and himself alone.”

Major C.F.M. Le Roy is in Mojaisk when he sees the loading of the 200 wagons that have been brought from Moscow for the 2,000 wounded there.  “Having left Moscow already full of refugees, women and children, the vehicles had had to take up the men wounded at Winkovo and Malojaroslavetz.  And now these at Mojaisk!”

The wounded are carried out and “…placed on the top-seats, on the fore-carriages, behind on trunks, on the seats, in the fodder-carts.  They were even put on the hoods of the wagons if there wasn’t any room underneath.  One can imagine the spectacle our convoys presented.  At the smallest jolt the least securely placed fell off.  The drivers took no care.  And the driver who followed after, if not distracted or in a stupor or away from his horses, or even for fear of stopping and losing his place in the queue, would drive on pitilessly over the body of the wretch who’d fallen.”

And finally, Colonel Louis-Francois Lejeune attempts to save some of the wounded [on October 30] by propping up horses that have dropped from hunger and harnessing them to carts filled with the wounded.  “But scarcely had they dragged themselves a few paces than they died.  So our wounded remained there, abandoned.  And as we went off and left them, averting our glances, we had to harden our hearts to their cries.”

Source:
1812: The Great Retreat – told by the Survivors, Paul Britten Austin, pp 42, 46 – 47, 52

The Impossibility of Removing the Dead from Among the Living

What became of the wounded?  Bellot de Kergorre, a Flemish war commissary wrote of what he found in Mojaisk where he was charged with the feeding of the wounded, “Bandaged with hay and groaning dreadfully, they lived for the first few days on the few grains they could find in the straw they were lying on and the little flour I was able to give them. When soup was made it had to be taken to them, but we’d nothing to put it in!  Providentially I came upon a fair number of little bowls intended for lamps, so we were able to give our patients some water.  The lack of candles was a terrible privation.”

In the poorly lit shelters, “some men who, hidden in the straw, had been overlooked.  A shocking thing was the impossibility of removing the dead from among the living.  I’d neither medical orderlies nor stretchers.  Not only the hospital but also the streets and houses were full of corpses.”

Kergorre does get some carts to remove the dead after a few days.  “I personally took away 128 who’d been serving as pillows for the sick and were several days old.”

Baron Jean Dominique Larrey
Tending the Wounded
at the Battle of Moscow
by Louise Lejeune

Captain Pierre Aubrey of the 12th Chasseurs had been wounded and was one of those lying in the straw in Mojaisk.  “I’d quite enough to do driving off people who came too close.  The stirring of the least blade of straw around me caused me atrocious pain.  The famous Dr. [Dominique Jean] Larrey and his surgeons had made so many amputations at Mojaisk that there was a heap of legs and arms so big a large room couldn’t have contained them.”

Kergorre continues and lists the supplies issued to him, “…one barrel of flour, which we distributed to the generals, 4 or 5 pounds apiece. There were twelve divisional generals and 14 brigadiers  As for the other wounded, they were excluded from this issue.”

“I had very few feverish cases and apart from two or three hundred deaths during the first few days I saved all my patients.”

Kergorre’s immediate supervisor expressly forbid him “… to touch the convoys destined for headquarters and ordered [him] to live off the country.  But I told him I’d take full responsibility for levying a tithe on the convoys, preferring to be court-martialled for feeding the wounded entrusted to my care than to let them die of hunger.”

Source:

1812: Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, Paul Britten Austin, p. 326-328