Tag Archives: Studianka

“A Single Idea Took Hold of the Crowd… To Reach the Bridge”

Faber du Faur wrote extensively on the events of the 28th which accompanied his painting of the same date.

Crossing of the Beresina, 28 November
by Faber du Faur

Crossing of the Beresina, 28 November
“Meanwhile, as night fell, the crowds of people who had not crossed on the 27th grew silent.  They settled down among the ruins of Studianka, along the heights or in amongst the mass of wagons and vehicles now forming an immense and virtually impenetrable ring around the bridges.  Campfires illuminated the entire area.  The majority of these unfortunates, worn down by their privations, had grown insensible to suffering or believed themselves protected by [Marshal Claude] Victor‘s corps, the left flank of which had taken up position on the Studianka heights.”

Count Peter Wittgenstein

“Thus it was that the night of the 27th passed by.  Artillery fire, which broke out on both banks simultaneously, heralded the dawn of the 28th.  [Count Peter ] Wittgenstein, with 40,000 Russians, was bearing down upon us from the direction of Borisov, whilst [Pavel] Chichagov, with 27,000 men, was attempting to attack the bridges on the right bank  For most of the unfortunates on the left bank the final hour had come.  They rose up and threw themselves towards the bridges.  The bridge on the left, intended for guns and wagons, collapsed for the third time under the weight of the fugitives, and any attempt to repair it was frustrated by the subsequent disorder and confusion.”

“A single idea took hold of the crowd, a single objective: to reach the bridge.  And in order to do so the fugitives were prepared to crush every obstacle and force their way past anyone, be it friend, commander, woman or child.  People were thrust into the freezing waters of the Beresina or pushed into the flames of the burning house between the two bridges.”

De Overtocht van de Berexina
by Aquarel van Fournier, an eyewitness

“Victor, his corps now reduced to 6,000 men, made heroic efforts to stem Wittgenstein’s advance, whilst [Marshal Nicolas] Oudinot, [Marshal Michel] Ney and [Jean Henri] Dombrowski managed to push Chichagov back on Stakova.  Even so, Wittgenstein, with vastly superior numbers, was gradually pushing Victor back towards the bridges, so much so that he was able to bring artillery fire to bear on the crowds of fugitives struggling to reach the crossing.  The desperation of this mass reached fever pitch.  Each Russian shell or round shot found a target, and swathese of unfortunates were cut down.  The cries of the multitude muffled the sound of the artillery as they made a supreme effort.  In a convulsed wave they surged forward, crushing the dead and dying underfoot.  Finally night fell and the Russian artillery fire first grew sporadic before ceasing altogether.  Towards nine in the evening Victor’s corps forced a passage through a scene of desolation and passed over to the right bank, leaving a rearguard in Studianka.”

Pavel Chichagov
Later disgraced for his actions
at the Berezina

“A good number of unfortunates failed to take the opportunity of crossing with relative ease and on the morning of the 29th woke to find the Russians advancing and a vast crowd milling around the bridges.  It was all for nothing as, at 8:30, the bridges were set on fire and all means of crossing the river went up in flames.  The same fate would have befallen all those who had crossed over to the right bank had Chichagov destroyed the series of bridges which spanned the marshes between Zaniviki and Zembin.  Fortunately, he failed to realise the importance of this defile and we arrived at Zembin having ourselves destroyed the bridges and placed the marsh between ourselves and the pursuing enemy.”

With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur, 1812, edited by Jonathan North

Camp at Studianka

Faber du Faur painted the scene on the bank of the Berezina where the army waited to cross.

Camp at Studianka,
26 November
by Faber du Faur
Note the building being dismantled in the background

Camp at Studianka, 26 November
“We left our camp at Nimanitschi before dawn on the 26th and marched for Borisov with the rest of the army; Borisov had fallen to Chichagov on the 23rd but had been recaptured by the Duke of Reggio [Nicolas Oudinot] on the 24th.  Night had falled by the time we reached the town.  We then followed the river for two leagues, the glow of the Russian campfires on the right bank helping us in our progress.  When day broke our march was masked by a forest of pines.  Firing could be heard but it seemed distant and muffled; however, it grew louder that afternoon.  It was Oudinot, who, with II Corps, had crossed the river and was pushing Chichagov back towards Borisov.”

“We reached Studianka, which lies at the foot of some heights, that evening.  The heights had guns positioned on them to defend the bridges that had been thrown across the river by General Eblé on the morning of the 26th.  The bridge on the right was designed for infantry and cavalry whilst that a little further downstream was intended for artillery and all kinds of other vehicles.”

“The river itself is quite wide, with marshy banks, and is about six feet deep.  There were ramps serving as approaches to the bridges, but these were partially flooded as the water level had risen recently.  Wood from the village had been used to build the bridges, and what remained had largely been consumed in the campfires.  What little was left served as our shelter that night whilst we waited to cross the river.  The place was so crowded that we thought ourselves lucky to find shelter from the glacial winds against the walls of a hut and next to the headquarters of the French gendarmes.”

With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur, 1812, edited by Jonathan North