Tag Archives: Major Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg

Disorder in Smolensk

As the army straggled west, the men set their sights on Smolensk as their salvation.  They believed they would find food, shelter and safety.  Smolensk was the city the Grande Armée had assaulted back in August with the end result that it had burned during the night.  On the retreat, the army arrived from November 9th through the 12th.

Major von Lossberg of Westphalia described the scenes in Smolensk to his wife in a letter dated November 12: “Had order prevailed in Smolensk when all the corps were allowed into the town, the Army, as I saw to my own satisfaction in several magazines, would have found enough flour and fodder for a fortnight; but the right of the strongest often dislocated the distribution queue and anyone who failed to stand firm received nothing.  If proper measures had been taken there should have been no shortage of meat either, since 1,000 cattle fell into the hands of the Cossacks not far from the town, and these could well have been protected.”

“…I cannot leave Smolensk without mentioning a regular fair which I found in the square where stood the magazines that issued rations.  Hundreds of soldiers, most o them from the French Guard, were dealing in plunder they had obtained during the campaign, particularly in Moscow, and this largely comprised clothing, women’s shawls, and scarves of all kinds, as well as articles stolen from churches. A non-commissioned officer in a green uniform – from his looks and manner of talking French he was probably Italian – asked 2,000 francs of me for a church ornament which, if he was speaking the truth (he talked with great knowledge about diamonds and explained the value of the different stones), was worth at least ten times that price.  The throng of soldiers of all nationalities – they included many buyers too – was so great that one had difficulty in making one’s way forward.  For twenty francs I bought a yellow-brown beaver cloak with a double collar, and this I put on straight away…  I bought half a pound of coffee for a five-franc piece.”

Source:
1812: Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia, Antony Brett-James, p 232

The Road to Borodino

The march from Smolensk to Borodino proved just as miserable as the first part of the invasion.  Captain Heinrich von Brandt had the following to say:  “The heat was extreme.  Furious gusts of wind swirled up such dense clouds of dust that often we could no longer see the great trees which lined the road…

“This constant burning dust was a real torment.  So as to protect at least their eyes, many soldiers improvised dark spectacles out of bits of window glass.  Others carried their shakos under their arms and wrapped a handkerchief round their heads, tearing only a hole large enough for seeing the way and breathing.  Others made garlands of foliage…. but at the least shower of rain all this masquerade vanished.”

Major Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg of Westphalia served with Junot’s corps described the march to his wife.  One morning he was not feeling well and got a later start.  This gave him the opportunity to see the disorder left in the wake of the army:  “And even if I had not seen the high road to Moscow, I should only have needed to follow the smell, while every hundred yards at least I stumbled upon a fallen horse or a bullock which had been slaughtered and whose intestines lay on the road.  At every village or isolated house I found dead, unburied soldiers, both friend and foe: nobody had taken the trouble to dig a grave for them.

So as to rest in the shade and drink some coffee – my servant had with him everything necessary for making it – I dismounted by a building which I then discovered was so damaged, so filthy, and so full of stragglers from every corps that I sat down some way off on a green beside a naked corpse, and was so insensible to every other emotion that I was able to give myself up to the single thought: how good it was that the dead men had not yet putrefied, because otherwise I should have been obliged to drink my coffee out in the burning sun.”

Captain Girod de l’Ain wrote about the advance at the end of August: “The heat was excessive: I had never experienced worse in Spain; but there is this difference that in Russia it does not last long.  The main Moscow road we were on is sandy, and the army, marching in several serried columns abreast, raised such clouds of dust that we could not see on another two yards away and our eyes, ears, and nostrils were full of it, and our faces encrusted.  This heat and dust made us extremely thirsty, as can well be imagined, and water was scarce.  Will you believe me when I say that I saw men lying on their bellies to drink horses’ urine in the gutter!”

Disorder in Smolensk

As the army straggled west, the men set their sights on Smolensk as their salvation.  They believed they would find food, shelter and safety.  Smolensk was the city the Grande Armée had assaulted back in August with the end result that it had burned during the night.  On the retreat, the army arrived from November 9 through the 12th.

Major von Lossberg of Westphalia described the scenes in Smolensk to his wife in a letter dated November 12: “Had order prevailed in Smolensk when all the corps were allowed into the town, the Army, as I saw to my own satisfaction in several magazines, would have found enough flour and fodder for a fortnight; but the right of the strongest often dislocated the distribution queue and anyone who failed to stand firm received nothing.  If proper measures had been taken there should have been no shortage of meat either, since 1,000 cattle fell into the hands of the Cossacks not far from the town, and these could well have been protected.”

“…I cannot leave Smolensk without mentioning a regular fair which I found in the square where stood the magazines that issued rations.  Hundreds of soldiers, most o them from the French Guard, were dealing in plunder they had obtained during the campaign, particularly in Moscow, and this largely comprised clothing, women’s shawls, and scarves of all kinds, as well as articles stolen from churches. A non-commissioned officer in a green uniform – from his looks and manner of talking French he was probably Italian – asked 2,000 francs of me for a church ornament which, if he was speaking the truth (he talked with great knowledge about diamonds and explained the value of the different stones), was worth at least ten times that price.  The throng of soldiers of all nationalities – they included many buyers too – was so great that one had difficulty in making one’s way forward.  For twenty francs I bought a yellow-brown beaver cloak with a double collar, and this I put on straight away…  I bought half a pound of coffee for a five-franc piece.”

The Road to Borodino

The march from Smolensk to Borodino proved just as miserable as the first part of the invasion.  Captain Heinrich von Brandt had the following to say:  “The heat was extreme.  Furious gusts of wind swirled up such dense clouds of dust that often we could no longer see the great trees which lined the road…

“This constant burning dust was a real torment.  So as to protect at least their eyes, many soldiers improvised dark spectacles out of bits of window glass.  Others carried their shakos under their arms and wrapped a handkerchief round their heads, tearing only a hole large enough for seeing the way and breathing.  Others made garlands of foliage…. but at the least shower of rain all this masquerade vanished.”

Major Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg of Westphalia served with Junot’s corps described the march to his wife.  One morning he was not feeling well and got a later start.  This gave him the opportunity to see the disorder left in the wake of the army:  “And even if I had not seen the high road to Moscow, I should only have needed to follow the smell, while every hundred yards at least I stumbled upon a fallen horse or a bullock which had been slaughtered and whose intestines lay on the road.  At every village or isolated house I found dead, unburied soldiers, both friend and foe: nobody had taken the trouble to dig a grave for them.

So as to rest in the shade and drink some coffee – my servant had with him everything necessary for making it – I dismounted by a building which I then discovered was so damaged, so filthy, and so full of stragglers from every corps that I sat down some way off on a green beside a naked corpse, and was so insensible to every other emotion that I was able to give myself up to the single thought: how good it was that the dead men had not yet putrefied, because otherwise I should have been obliged to drink my coffee out in the burning sun.”

Captain Girod de l’Ain wrote about the advance at the end of August: “The heat was excessive: I had never experienced worse in Spain; but there is this difference that in Russia it does not last long.  The main Moscow road we were on is sandy, and the army, marching in several serried columns abreast, raised such clouds of dust that we could not see on another two yards away and our eyes, ears, and nostrils were full of it, and our faces encrusted.  This heat and dust made us extremely thirsty, as can well be imagined, and water was scarce.  Will you believe me when I say that I saw men lying on their bellies to drink horses’ urine in the gutter!”