Tag Archives: Moscow

Scenes of Moscow by Albrecht Adam

Albrecht Adam was a civilian attached to the topographical staff of Prince Eugène, commander of IV Corps and Napoleon’s step/adopted son.  Today’s post shows three paintings he dated 20 September 1812 along with their accompanying description.

The French Army Before Moscow
20 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

The French Army Before Moscow
“Here was the army camped a few miles before Moscow, so hopeful that the trials and tribulations were now at an end and that respite awaited them in the capital.  This camp was perhaps the last one the French army would enjoy and it is characterised by its military bearing.  Despite being exhausted, weakened by forced marches and reduced to half of its effectives by combat, it was still a great army commanded by a great captain and one which had braved all the obstacles the Russian terrain and climate could present.  But once it reached Moscow its fate was sealed.  Looking at this scene, which of us cannot prevent the sad reflection from escaping his lips that ‘those legions of heroes no longer exist'”

Moscow
20 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

Moscow
“On this day large parts of Moscow were nothing more than smouldering ruins.  The dye was cast, fortune was reversed and here it was that providence put an end to the glories hitherto enjoyed by the French army.”

“The soldiers were depressed having to deal with nothing but woe and were prey to dark presentiments.  Having been exhausted by forced marches, afflicted by all manner of privation and particularly by the lack of food, and deprived of clothing which might resist the rigours of bad weather, very few of them were in any condition to even consider what lay in store for them.  Soon they would succumb, unfortunates, to the terrible storm which would be unleashed upon them.”

“On 20 and 21 September elements of the army began to move into the city from Peterskoi where Napoleon had stayed whilst the fire ravaged the city.  A few sentries were posted here and there among the smoking cinders, all that remained of this fine imperial city, whilst bands of unfortunate men sought shelter in vain.  Others, motivated by abject want, searched high and low for food but there were also others, inspired by greed, who sought to acquire booty even though it could little benefit them in such desperate circumstances.  Everyone was in a state of confused desperation and none really knew what they were looking for.”

Moscow
20 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

Moscow
“The effect the destruction of Moscow had on individual soldiers was, of course, diverse, and it offered an attentive observer a rich variety of subjects to study.  On the whole, the vast majority were overcome by discouragement, partly induced by the long ordeal they had been through and by the fact that they had seen all their hopes for a better future, and for an end to their sufferings, go up in smoke.”

“Some of the more reflective soldiers were absorbed by sombre contemplation of what might now come to pass.  Those of a more insensitive nature allowed themselves the liberty to do as they pleased and to profit from the opportunity.  Discipline, so vital for the working of such a vast host, was gone and violence and selfishness overcame order.  True, a mass of provisions had been found in Moscow but the disorder which reigned in the city put paid to any attempt to distribute such supplies fairly.  Everyone, by guile or by force, sought to get his hands on anything which might prove useful.”

“So it was that one day, whilst passing through the ruins, I came across a body of drunken cavalrymen dragging along with them whatever they could carry and shouting at teach other to hurry up.  One of them was riding a horse carrying a basket loaded with bottles and supplies.  He was so completely drunk that he tottered this way and that until his horse made a sharp movement, sending the man sprawling on the floor along with his booty.  His comrades laughed heartily, drunk as they were, at the scene.”

Source:

Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812, edited by Jonathan North

Pillaging the Burnt City

Philippe-Paul de Ségur describes the scene as Napoleon returns to Moscow after having fled the flames, “The Emperor saw that his entire army was scattered over the city.  His progress was impeded by long lines of marauders going for plunder or returning with it…”

Napoleon in Burning Moscow

“He stumbled over the debris of all sorts of furniture which had been thrown out of the windows to save it from the flames, or over heaps of rich plunder that had been abandoned in favor of other loot; for soldiers are like that, snatching up anything they can lay their hands on, greedily loading themselves with more than they can hope to carry, then after a few steps finding their strength unequal to the load, dropping , piece by piece, the greater part of their booty.”

“The thoroughfares were blocked with it, and the public squares, like the camps, had become markets where the superfluous was being exchanged for the necessary.  The most precious of articles, not appreciated by their possessors, were sold for next to nothing, while other things having a deceptively rich appearance brought more than they were worth.  Gold, being easier to carry, was bought at a great loss for silver, which the knapsacks would not hold.  Soldiers were seated everywhere on bundles of merchandise on heaps of coffee and sugar, in the midst of the finest wines and liquors that they were trying to trade for bread.”

Horses in a Church

“It was through such disorder that Napoleon rode back into Moscow.  He willingly gave it over to pillage, trusting that his soldiers, scattered everywhere over the ruins, would not search them fruitlessly.  But when he saw that the disorder was increasing, that even the Old Guard was involved in it, that the Russian peasants, attracted by the prices they were able to get for their wares, were being robbed by our famished soldiers of the food they were bringing us, when he realized that all the still existing resources were being squandered by this lawless pillage — then he reined in the Guard and issued severe orders.  The churches in which our cavalry had taken shelter were evacuated and reopened for worship…”

“But it was too late!  The soldiers had disappeared, the terrified peasants never returned, and many, many supplies had been wasted.  The French army had been guilty of similar mistakes before, but in this case the fire was their excuse, as they had been compelled to act in haste to get ahead of the flames.  It is remarkable enough that order was restored at the Emperor’s first command.”

Source:

Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, Philippe-Paul de Ségur, pp. 114 – 116

Moscow Burns

In Alan Palmer’s book: Napoleon in Russia, he recounts how General Philippe Paul de Ségur entered Moscow to prepare the Kremlin to receive Napoleon.  He tried to sleep in an armchair, but around midnight, got up and looked out a window and saw: “Some distance away, in whatever direction I looked, there were flames leaping up.”

Moscow Burning

Sergeant Bourgogne with the Imperial Guard was with some of the first troops to enter the city.  In order to prevent looting, they were not allowed to leave the Kremlin square when dismissed.  Bourgogne said: “We went to the houses in the square to ask for food and drink, but as we found nobody in them we helped ourselves.”  The same thing was going on all over Moscow.

Shooting Arsonists
Commemorative 1912 Russian
Candy Box Card

The commander of the Guard sent Bourgogne and his men off in search of pumps and hoses to fight the flames (they had all been destroyed by the Russians).  Men with torches were passing them by, but they were allowed to pass unchallenged.  His patrol eventually did round up some incendiaries, but Bourgogne himself allowed three to escape.

Russian Incendiaries

One of the escapes happened in this way:  Bourgogne’s men had rounded up 32 prisoners and he was in command of the rear guard.  As they went, he noticed one crying like a child, and saying repeatedly “Mon Dieu! I have lost my wife and son in the fire!”

The man turned out to be from Switzerland and had been working as a French and German tutor in Moscow.  Bourgogne felt sorry for the man and offered to help him look for his family.  The man recognized his house by the large stove standing in the burned wreckage.  The column stopped at this time due to the street being blocked by flames.  The man soon found his wife and son, both dead in the cellar of the house.

Sources:
Napoleon in Russia, Alan Palmer

Image and translation of commemorative 1912 Russian candy box card provided by Alexey Temnikov

Arriving at the Walls of Moscow

Napoleon Near Moscow
by Valili Vereshchagin

On the 14th of September, 1812, Napoleon’s army arrived at the gates of their destination: Moscow.  Sergeant Bourgogne of the Imperial Guard recorded his impressions in his memoirs: “At one o’clock in the afternoon of September 14th, after passing through a great forest, we saw a hill some way off, and half an hour afterwards part of the army reached the highest point, signaling to us who were behind, and shouting ‘Moscow! Moscow!’  It was indeed the great city; there we should rest after all our labours, for we of the Imperial Guard had marched more than twelve hundred leagues without resting.”
It was a beautiful summer’s day; the sun was reflected on all the domes, spires, and gilded palaces.  Many capitals I have seen – such as Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Vienna, and Madrid – had only produced an ordinary impression on me.  But this was quite different; the effect was to me – in fact, to everyone – magical.”

The Arrival at Moscow
by Laslett John Pott

Jakob Walter describes his approach and entry into the city (probably on the 15th): “On the march into the city or rather on the march toward it, from a hill in a forest an hour and a half away, we saw the huge city lying before us.  Clouds of fire, red smoke, great gilded crosses of the church towers glittered, shimmered, and billowed up toward us from the city.  This holy city was like the desecration of the city of Jerusalem… Farther inward toward the city was a wide plain… As we marched through, I observed as much as I could: there were broad streets, long straight alleys, tall buildings massively built of brick, church towers with burned roofs and half-melted bells, and copper roofs which had rolled from the buildings; everything was uninhabited and uninhabitable.”

The Russian withdrawal from Smolensk

Ilya Radozhitskii was a Russian artillery officer who served during the campaign of 1812 and wrote his memoirs after the war.  He describes the Russian withdrawal after Smolensk:

During the night of 7 [19] August the 1st Army moved from Smolensk in two columns: the left, consisting of the 5th and 6th Infantry Corps and two cavalry corps, moved on a safer road through the village of Prudische while the right, consisting of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Corps with a rearguard under General [Fedor] Korf, was ordered to proceed across a hilly countryside, following the road through Krakhotkino and Zhabino to Bredikhino in order to get to the main [Moscow] road, which was protected by General Tuchkov III’s detachment in front of the village of Lubino.

At 9 p.m. on 6 [18] August my unit set off with the right column from Smolensk, marching through the night of 7 [19] August across hills and ravines covered with dense shrubs. The night was dark and damp. At dawn, sleep overcame me so I sat on a gun carriage and, leaning my head against the carriage, gave myself away to sweet dreams. Just as my cannon descended on a slope, English Lord Wilson happened to be passing by and saw how the gunners held me so I did not fall off the carriage, and upon seeing the General, began to wake me up. The venerable Lord saw all of it and admiring the gunners’ care for their officer. He gave them a sign with his hand to let me sleep. When I woke, they told me about the kind “red” general who, as I learned later, was an Englishman assigned to our Commander-in-Chief and tasked by the [British] envoy to serve as an observer [to the Russian army].

At dawn on 7 [19] August we approached the main road, where General Tuchkov’s detachment waited for us, and heard a cannonade coming from behind us. It was Prince of Wurttemberg’s division from the 2nd Corps, engaging the French at the village of Gorbunovo, which the French had captured, thereby cutting off the rearguard of General Korf. The French then turned to the main road and advanced towards General Tuchkov’s detachment, which held positions between the villages of Toporovshina and Latynina on the Stragan’ Rivulet. The enemy engaged this detachment before the 2nd Corps, which was delayed at Gorbunovo, managed to get to the main road. Meanwhile we were moving with the 4th Corps, ahead of the 2nd Corps, and had already passed the village of Lubino when we were turned back to reinforce General Tuchkov’s detachment, which the French engaged so vigorously that it was forced to retreat across the Stragan’ Rivulet.

By 3 o’clock in the afternoon the battle intensified. A ferocious firefight was being waged in the brush all along the line. Because of the smoke that rose incessantly from musket fire, the brush seemed to be on fire. For several hours the French had tried in vain to break through our center. A murderous rain of lead claimed many victims. Skirmishers could hardly see each other and Death stealthily claimed the brave souls. The attacking enemy columns were annihilated by the canister rounds fired by our batteries as well as the bayonets of our grenadiers. Meanwhile, the French [VIII] Corps of General Junot, accompanied by numerous cavalry, appeared on the hill against our left flank. Our 4th Corps was immediately moved to face this new threat.

Staff-Captain [Alexander] Figner, as the commander of 3rd Light Artillery Company, was still in reserve when the regiments of our corps moved left and up the hill. However, he understood that we would be soon committed to the battle and ordered the available wine rations to be given to his artillery crews. He borrowed this method of maintaining soldiers’ courage from the French, who, upon falling into our hands, usually carried rum or vodka instead of water, in the canister behind their knapsacks… After wishing his gun crews success in victory, Figner went ahead, out of ordinary curiosity, to observe the battle but soon returned and ordered everyone to mount the gun carriages and caissons at once. We quickly rode to the left flank but had to pass through swamp that delayed our movement. Having moved through the marsh, our guns began to ascend a steep hill, where a cavalry melee was taking place. We could hear a rumbling noise, shouting and occasional cannon fire. Suddenly to the left of us, the Cossacks descended the hill; some of them quickly turned back but three Cossacks kept descending, accompanying a fat Württemberg trumpeter who was unhorsed. He wore a blue uniform with red lapels and big boots, which occasionally tripped him. The poor lad had probably blown his trumpet too much since he was bathed in sweat and red-faced as usually happens after a lot of work. But he seemed to be proud of the fact that three Cossacks were assigned to escort him.

Climbing up the hill, we observed a rather curious spectacle. The Pernovskii Regiment stood in line on the top of hill, with six of our cannon on its right flank while the remaining guns had to remain on the slope because of a lack of space. In front of the Pernovskii Regiment, we could see blue, red, gray and green hussars deployed, by squadrons and with horse artillery guns, in the brush. The cavalry melee unfolded before our eyes. It was fascinating to see how a few squadrons of French hussars charged at our horsemen, who fled at full gallop before receiving reinforcements, turned around and drove the French back. Only shrapnel and bullets stopped their charges but as they recalled, they were again attacked and pursued by the French. Such fighting resembled the knightly tournaments: some cavalrymen fell from their horses; some, finding themselves amidst the enemy, were waving their sabers; one shot his pistol, the other hacked [with his saber] at the enemy; horses crashed into each other, became frenzied and rushed away… To the right of the hill Prince Gurielov was with the Polotskii Infantry Regiment, deployed in woods that covered the hill slopes. At one point he moved forward from the woods to attack the enemy cavalry’s flank but quickly faced a similar threat and was forced to stop.

Figner’s cannon remained idle because they had to shoot through our own men. Meanwhile, as I observed the overall course of the battle, I noticed French infantry on our right flank, which was moving through the brush at the bottom of the hill. The French drove our jagers back. I rushed to inform Figner about this, emphasizing the consequences if the French managed to get behind us. He told me to take six guns, descend from the hill and move to the main road while he followed me with the remaining guns. I was delayed by the swamp at the bottom of the hill and managed to move five guns before the sixth got stuck in the swamp. As they came out of the brush, the [French] skirmishers stumbled

Re-enactors portray a Russian Artillery crew

directly upon my guns. Upon seeing my cannon so close to them, the French rushed towards me. Their bullets began to buzz sharply above us and the tight space and difficult terrain prevented me from deploying for action so I decided to hasten towards the main road. The crackling of musket fire and smoke kept approaching us; bullets began to pierce our gunners, horses and strike at gun carriages…. Our jagers, with muskets in arms and leaning, hurried to hide from the deadly lead behind my guns. Their officer shouted to them, “Where are you going, lads? Come back, please, you should be ashamed!” But nobody listened to him. Suddenly Generals – Commander-in-Chief Barclay de Tolly, accompanied by Lord [Robert] Wilson, Count [Alexander] Kutaisov, Osterman, Orlov, Korf and others – appeared in front of us. They all shouted at the fleeing men, “Where are you going! Stop! Turn back!” The soldiers stopped and turned back. The Commander-in-Chief rode up to me and asked sternly, “Where did you come from?” – “From there” I replied, pointing to the hill on the left. And he went onwards. The generals were followed by dense columns of grenadiers from Count Arakcheyev’s Leib-Grenadier and Yekaterinoslavskiii Grenadier Regiments: these were tall fellows with pale faces, holding their muskets at the ready and marching at a brisk pace to meet death. With the cry of “Hurrah!” they charged into the brush and restored order with bayonets. Five minutes later, many of them, bloodied and half dead, returned leaning on the shoulders of their comrades … It was impossible not to shudder as one witnessed the withering of the finest colors of the Russian might.

The fast approaching darkness failed to end the ferocious battle. Despite our persistence, the French continued to fight until midnight ignoring the heavy casualties they suffered. They lost a general of division [Charles Etienne Gudin] who was killed, but in return captured General [Pavel] Tuchkov,[1] which caused our skirmishers to flee. General Konovnitsyn and his grenadiers, however, managed to save the day and hold the ground.

After my departure, Staff Captain Figner remained behind with six guns, with the Pernovskii Regiment on the left flank. His personal courage saved my cannon which had been mired in the swamp. We witnessed his gallantry. Upon observing from the hill top that the French had driven our skirmishers out of the brush and could capture the mired gun, he descended from the hill with a saber and pistol in hand. His commanding voice rallied the fleeing soldiers. Figner managed to gather about 15 men whom he hid in the woods. As the crowd [tolpa] of French, shouting incessantly “Avance! Avance!,” approached the ambush, Figner ordered his men to fire a volley and then rushed with a naked saber and pistol towards the officer who led the French, grabbed him and threatened to kill him [if he did not surrender]. This surprise attack completely stopped the French – the officer surrendered while his men showed their backs to us. As Figner dragged the officer, the chevalier of the Legion of Honour, by the collar, he came across the Commander-in-Chief who, having learned of Figner’s feat, immediately congratulated him with a promotion to captain. We were all thrilled by the feat and congratulated Figner. He unexpectedly became unusually contemplative and withdrawn and did not want to do anything in the company, leaving it to me as the next senior officer.

The gun and musket fire of this combat had such an effect on me. As well the fleeing skirmishers and the proximity of danger so frightened me that I kept hearing gunfire throughout the night even though there was none, and still envisioned the blackened skinny French skirmishers who pursued our jagers. The recently experienced fever and continued exposure to the horrors of war affected my mind. Besides, having marched for over thirty verstas [20 miles] on very poor roads in darkness since yesterday evening, we spent the entire day on our feet and in the midst of battle only to continue retreating throughout the night. I was not the only one exhausted by such exertion and both men and horses barely trudged along.

After the battle, we stopped for about two hours at our main headquarters, crossed the Brovenka River at night and joined the rest of the army at Lubino before resuming our retreat. On 8 [20] August, we crossed the Dnieper at the Solovyevo crossing. This location was very important to us and if they had anticipated our move, the French would have caused us plenty of harm. The riverbanks here are low lying, sandy and covered on both sides with small woods that are quite disadvantageous for defending against an enemy. We stopped for the night four verstas [2.5 miles] from the crossing.

From there on, the French pursuit eased off as the most recent fights had cooled their ardor. Besides, it was said that Napoleon was still at Smolensk, pondering [what to do next.]

At dawn of the following day, 1st Army’s entire artillery concentrated into a general park before moving to the Moscow River. We marched by companies where possible and passed each other by as we moved. The dust and heat were intolerable. Artillery spanned six rows on the wide road, which was so ploughed over [by carriages] that in some places we walked knee-deep in finely ground dirt that felt like powder; while the wheels rolled without making any noise. The entire artillery park was commanded by Colonel Voyeikov. For several verstas back and forth one could not see anything but artillery and baggage trains, moving in dense clouds of dust that kept rising to the sky. We walked as if shrouded in fog; the sun seemed purple and neither the greenery by the side of the road nor the paint on gun carriages could be discerned. Soldiers were covered from head to toe in gray dust, and our faces and hands were black from dust and sweat. We swallowed and breathed the dust. As the heat tormented us with thirst, we could not find any refreshments. In such miserable conditions we happened to pass by a crowd of French prisoners, who had been captured in the last battle and were happy to see us hastily retreating. They mockingly told us that we would not get away from Napoleon because they now made up the vanguard of his army.

I must admit that our soldiers became very disheartened after the battle at Smolensk. The blood that had been shed in the ruins of Smolensk, all the effort made to resist the enemy as well as retreating on the Moscow road into the depths of Russia itself had made each and every one of us feel powerless against our terrible conqueror. Each of us witnessed heartrending visions of perishing Fatherland. Residents from nearby villages ran to us, leaving the greater part of their positions to their friends and enemies. Burning villages were behind and all around us, announcing the approaching French troops. The Cossacks destroyed everything that was left behind following the passage of our troops so that the enemy found only barren and desolate land everywhere. Thus, desperate Russia tormented her own womb.


[1] General Pavel Tuchkov commanded a brigade in the 17th Division of the 2nd Corps and was tasked with defending a road junction at Lubino/Valutina Gora. During the battle, he led a counterattack with the Ekaterinoslavskii Grenadier Regiment but was captured after receiving a bayonet wound to the abdomen and several saber cuts to the head. He was well treated by Marshal Alexander Berthier and eventually met Napoleon, who had him transported to Metz, where Tuchkov remained until early 1814

The above account is from Alexander Mikaberidze’s translation of Ilya Radozhitskii’s Campaign Memoirs.  Tolstoy consulted Radozhitskii’s memoirs when writing War and Peace.  Many thanks to Alex for generously providing this blog post.

Bloggers Note:  This is the 100th post of this blog (including 13 re-posts from 2011).  Thank you to everyone reading out there and to James Fisher and Alex Mikaberidze for providing material for blog posts ˜ Scott Armstrong

The Day of Departure

We pick up Jakob Walters’ narrative about the day he marches out of Moscow:

“When we assembled in the morning, my company was 25 privates strong, and all companies were more or less of this size.  The march went forth to the right from behind the eastern side of the city, and we moved past the city on the south.  There were two bridges thrown across the river below us, and the smoke from the flames surged up behind us.  Up on the heights past the bridge to the left of the road stood a cloister in which there was a flour storeroom where everyone fetched as much as he could carry.  Beyond the bridge there was a cabbage patch where millions of cabbage heads were still standing; it pained me not to be able to take along even one of these heads, since I fully expected the utmost famine.”

The suffering on the retreat is so well known that we tend to overlook the recent suffering on the advance: heat, hunger, exhaustion.   We also hear about the plunder the army carried off from Moscow and that image overshadows what the men must have been thinking: ‘This march is going to be worse.’  Walter knows he will regret leaving those cabbage behind.

Russian Snows: Coming of Age in Napoleon’s Army

Russian Snows: Coming of Age in Napoleon's Army

Today is the official release date for Russian Snows: Coming of Age in Napoleon’s Army.  This work of historical fiction follows 14-year-old Henri Carle as he accompanies his older brother who enlists in the Grande Armée.  Henri is with the army on the invasion of Russia, first as a teamster and then in the ranks.

Along the way, he witnesses the battles of Smolensk, Borodino, Krasnoe and The Berezina.  Though just a boy, Henri needs to grow up fast as the army deteriorates around him when the Russian winter hits.

This book is written for readers 12 – 16 years old, but will be enjoyed by anyone who likes historical fiction.  Actual events and incidents from the campaign are woven into the story and paint a picture of the campaign through the eyes of the commons soldier.  Order a copy today!

For the story about the writing of Russian Snows, visit Jenny Milchman’s blog, Suspense Your Disbelief.

 

 

 

Things are comfortable in Moscow, but it’s time to leave

Jakob Walter’s account of his stay in Moscow is short, but he did write about how provisions could be bought in the “German suburb” where the Württemberg corps stayed for three weeks.

“Here one could find and buy provisions; for each soldier was now citizen, merchant, innkeeper, and baker of Moscow.  Everyone tried to dress as much as possible with silks and materials of all colors.  Only tailors were lacking; silks, muslins, and red Morocco leather were all abundant.  Things to eat were not wanting either.  Whoever could find nothing could buy something and vegetables in sufficient quantity stood in the fields.  Particularly was there an abundance of beets, which were as round and large as bowling balls and fiery red throughout.  There were masses of cabbage three and four times as large in size as cabbage heads that we would consider large.  The district called Muscovy is more favored in agriculture and climate, and more civilized than the regions toward St. Petersburg than those through which we had come.  It was still good weather, and one could steep warm enough under a coat at night.”

Negotiations for a Russian surrender had not gone according to plan and Napoleon decided to leave Moscow and head west in search of winter quarters.  Walter describes the evacuation: “After we had been citizens of Moscow for four weeks, we lost our burgher rights again.  Napoleon refused the peace treaty proposed to him, and the army which had advanced some thirty hours’ farther on had to retreat, because the Russian army stationed in Moldavia was approaching.  Now it was October 17, and Napoleon held an army review and announced the departure for October 18, early in the morning at 3 o’clock, with the warning that whoever should delay one hour would fall into the hands of the enemies.  All beer, brandy, etc., was abandoned and whatever was still intact was ordered to be burned.  Napoleon himself had the Kremlin undermined and blown up. [Note: The Kremlin was not blown up]  The morning came, and each took his privilege of citizenship upon his shoulders and covered it with his coat cape of strong woolen cloth, and everybody had bread pouches of red Morocco leather at his side, all had an odd appearance as they set out; they filled, as far as it was possible, everything with sugar and the so-called Moscow tea in order to withstand the future misery.”

The Grande Armée did not actually leave Moscow until the 19th.  Perhaps Walter had his dates wrong or merely remembered the original plan for departure.

Moscow Burns

In Alan Palmer’s book: Napoleon in Russia, he recounts how General Philippe Paul de Ségur entered Moscow to prepare the Kremlin to receive Napoleon.  He tried to sleep in an armchair, but around midnight, got up and looked out a window and saw: “Some distance away, in whatever direction I looked, there were flames leaping up.”

Sergeant Bourgogne with the Imperial Guard was with some of the first troops to enter the city.  In order to prevent looting, they were not allowed to leave the Kremlin square when dismissed.  Bourgogne said: “We went to the houses in the square to ask for food and drink, but as we found nobody in them we helped ourselves.”  The same thing was going on all over Moscow.

The commander of the Guard sent Bourgogne and his men off in search of pumps and hoses to fight the flames (they had all been destroyed by the Russians).  Men with torches were passing them by, but they were allowed to pass unchallenged.  His patrol eventually did round up some incendiaries, but Bourgogne himself allowed three to escape.

One of the escapes happened in this way:  Bourgogne’s men had rounded up 32 prisoners and he was in command of the rear guard.  As they went, he noticed one crying like a child, and saying repeatedly “Mon Dieu! I have lost my wife and son in the fire!”

The man turned out to be from Switzerland and had been working as a French and German tutor in Moscow.  Bourgogne felt sorry for the man and offered to help him look for his family.  The man recognized his house by the large stove standing in the burned wreckage.  The column stopped at this time due to the street being blocked by flames.  The man soon found his wife and son, both dead in the cellar of the house.

Arriving at the Walls of Moscow

On the 14th of September, 1812, Napoleon’s army arrived at the gates of their destination: Moscow.  Sergeant Bourgogne of the Imperial Guard recorded his impressions in his memoirs: “At one o’clock in the afternoon of September 14th, after passing through a great forest, we saw a hill some way off, and half an hour afterwards part of the army reached the highest point, signaling to us who were behind, and shouting ‘Moscow! Moscow!’  It was indeed the great city; there we should rest after all our labours, for we of the Imperial Guard had marched more than twelve hundred leagues without resting.”
It was a beautiful summer’s day; the sun was reflected on all the domes, spires, and gilded palaces.  Many capitals I have seen – such as Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Vienna, and Madrid – had only produced an ordinary impression on me.  But this was quite different; the effect was to me – in fact, to everyone – magical.”

Jakob Walter describes his approach and entry into the city (probably on the 15th): “On the march into the city or rather on the march toward it, from a hill in a forest an hour and a half away, we saw the huge city lying before us.  Clouds of fire, red smoke, great gilded crosses of the church towers glittered, shimmered, and billowed up toward us from the city.  This holy city was like the desecration of the city of Jerusalem… Farther inward toward the city was a wide plain… As we marched through, I observed as much as I could: there were broad streets, long straight alleys, tall buildings massively built of brick, church towers with burned roofs and half-melted bells, and copper roofs which had rolled from the buildings; everything was uninhabited and uninhabitable.”