Tag Archives: Provisions

The First Days of the Invasion

Jakob Walter writes the soliders believed that, once in Russia, the troops would only have to forage, but this proved to be an illusion.  He talks about one town, Poniemon, which was stripped bare by the time he entered as were all of the other villages.  He wrote “Here and there a hog ran around and then was beaten with clubs, chopped with sabers, and stabbed with bayonets; and, often still living, it would be cut and torn to pieces.”
Food for the horses was a problem from the start.  Brett-James’ book has an account from Lt. J.L.Henckens, a Dutchman with the 6th Regt. of Chasseurs a cheval.  “As a result of eating green rye, the horses foundered, and we lost hundreds in this way… Fortunately the depot sent us some remounts, otherwise we should very soon have presented a sorry picture.”
In Alan Palmer’s book Napoleon in Russia: The 1812 Campaign, he recounts how one of the junior officers of Napoleon’s staff counted the bodies of 1,240 horses as he rode twelve miles along the road to Vilna.
The weather was extemely hot, but the nights cold.  Heavy rains came within the week.  The expected battle with the Russians had not materialized and the army moved faster than planned, causing hardships and shortages.

The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier

I am reading the above referenced book which is a memoir written some years after the campaign by Jakob Walter.  Walter was a soldier from Württemberg which was one of the states of the Confederation of the Rhine.  He participated in a few of Napoleon’s campaigns including the invasion of Russia.

One of the things I was surprised to find out in doing the research for my book was that the troops began to suffer from lack of provisions before they even entered Russia.  Walter tells about how his regiment plundered one Polish village and found the food the villagers had hidden.  The inhabitants complained and the troops were brought under control with the threat of death.

Another incident along a different line is the appearance of swarms of bugs.  It was May as they passed through Poland and “…the air swarmed with May bugs so amazingly that it was hard to keep your eyes open in the evening.  The bugs were so very thick that they darkened the atmosphere, and everyone was busy shaking them out of his face and hair.”