Napoleon issued periodic progress reports in numbered bulletins. Number 28 was issued on November 12, 1812 from Smolensk. It began as follows: “The Imperial headquarters were, on 1 November, at Viasma, and on the 9th at Smolensk. The weather was very fine up to the 6th, but on the 7th winter began; the ground is covered with snow. The roads have become very slippery, and very difficult for carriage horses. We have lost many men by cold and fatigue; night bivouacking is very injurious to them.”
“Since the battle of Maloyaroslavetz, the advanced guard has seen no other enemy than the Cossacks, who like the Arabs, prowl upon the flanks and fly about to annoy.”
The bulletin goes on to note that since the bad weather started on the 6th, more than 3,000 carriage horses and 100 caissons had been lost.
Philippe-Paul de Ségur described the scene when the stragglers were turned away from the store houses because they were not with their regiments: “So these men scattered through the streets, their only hope now being in pillage. But the carcasses of horses cleaned of meat down to the bone lying everywhere indicated the presence of famine. The doors and windows had been torn out of all the houses as fuel for the campfires, so the men found no shelter there. No winter quarters had been prepared, no wood provided. The sick and wounded were left out in the streets on the carts that had brought them in. Once again the deadly highroad was passing through an empty name! Here was one more bivouac among deceptive ruins, colder even than the forests the men had just left.”
“Finally these disorganized troops sought out their regiments and rejoined them momentarily in order to obtain their rations. But all the bread… had already been distributed, as had the biscuits and meat. Rye flour, dry vegetables, and brandy were measured out to them. The best efforts of the guards were needed to prevent the detachments of the different corps from killing each other around the doors of the storehouses. When after interminable formalities the wretched fare was delivered to them, the soldiers refused to carry it back to their regiments. They broke open the the sacks, snatched a few pounds of flour out of them, and went into hiding until they had devoured it. It was the same with brandy. The next day the houses were found full of the corpses of these unfortunate warriors.”
Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, Philippe-Paul de Ségur, p 183