Tag Archives: Heinrich von Roos

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 march to Smolensk and an interesting way to tell the health of an army

Heinrich von Roos of Montbrun’s cavalry, wrote about the march from Vitebsk to Smolensk.  “… in a few days we were separated from the army, and wandered around the countryside meeting neither friend nor foe…  Where exactly we went on this march I could not say.  There was seldom an opportunity to ask the name of a little town or village, because the inhabitants fled or went into hiding.”

They were able to determine whose cavalry had gone on before them by recognizing “… the method of shoeing and from the wheel tracks.  The troops always leave something behind by which one can ascertain their nationality.  As soon as the column has gone past one notices a smell peculiar to each army, and veterans know it at once.”

“… this campaign had the special feature that the excreta left by men and animals behind the Russian front indicated a good state of health, whereas one found behind ours the clearest possible signs that the entire army, men and horses alike, must have been suffering from diarrhea.”

In order to relieve this condition, the men would brew peppermint or chamomile tea.  If these were not available, balm-mint or elder-blossom were used.  Thick soup or broth were given during severe attacks.  The medicines were all used up and the patients had to do without.  The sutlers, however, did catch up and brought wine which was “… enjoyed by anyone who had money or credit.”

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.”

The march to Smolensk and an interesting way to tell the health of an army

Heinrich von Roos of Montbrun’s cavalry, wrote about the march from Vitebsk to Smolensk.  “… in a few days we were separated from the army, and wandered around the countryside meeting neither friend nor foe…  Where exactly we went on this march I could not say.  There was seldom an opportunity to ask the name of a little town or village, because the inhabitants fled or went into hiding.”

They were able to determine whose cavalry had gone on before them by recognizing “… the method of shoeing and from the wheel tracks.  The troops always leave something behind by which one can ascertain their nationality.  As soon as the column has gone past one notices a smell peculiar to each army, and veterans know it at once.”

“… this campaign had the special feature that the excreta left by men and animals behind the Russian front indicated a good state of health, whereas one found behind ours the clearest possible signs that the entire army, men and horses alike, must have been suffering from diarrhea.”

In order to relieve this condition, the men would brew peppermint or chamomile tea.  If these were not available, balm-mint or elder-blossom were used.  Thick soup or broth were given during severe attacks.  The medicines were all used up and the patients had to do without.  The sutlers, however, did catch up and brought wine which was “… enjoyed by anyone who had money or credit.”

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.”