Tag Archives: Wurttemberg

Scenes of Moscow

Faber du Faur’s scene dated October 2nd reflects for the first time that the weather is getting colder as evidenced by the great coat on the sentry and the accompanying description.

Guarding III Corps’ Artillery Park,
By the Vladimir Gate, Moscow, 2 October
by Faber du Faur

“III Corps’ artillery park was situated by the Vladimir Gate and was guarded by Württemberg, French and Dutch troops.  Soon, however, the position was deemed vulnerable and the park was relocated in a square, with sentries being lodged in a merchant’s house close by.  The rest of III Corps’ artillery were quartered a short distance from the park.”

“Here we see the park’s sentries a their posts.  Cold nights and mornings had already led to the troops’ adopting some strange costumes: one of the sentries, a Dutch gunner, keeps out the cold with a fur cap, warms his hands in a muff and, under his greatcoat, sports a nightgown.  Such precautions were but the prelude to the universal adoption of attempts to keep out the cold.”


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

French vs. German Foragers

In yesterday’s post, we read about the animosity between the French and German troops in Ney’s IIIrd Corps.  Today’s post is an interesting observation about the differences between French and German foragers.  The observer states that the French were much better foragers than the Germans.  The interesting thing is that the observer was German, a Württemberger, General graf von Scheler.  Von Scheler was also in Ney’s Corps, the same Corps as yesterday’s eyewitness.

In a report to the King of Bavaria, von Scheler discussed why the German troops suffered more than the French from lack of rations:  “The principle cause by far lies in the different natures of the German and French soldier.  Already when we crossed the Vistula all regular food supply and orderly distribution ceased, and from there as far as Moscow not a pound of meat or bread, not a glass of brandy was taken through legal distribution or regular requisition.  Beyond the Vistula, as soon as the few stocks of food had been exhausted, the order of the day was at once issued: ‘Let each man take wherever he can find it, and live as well or as badly as he can manage.’ ”

“At this point the difference between the German and French soldier became very apparent, and to the serious disadvantage of the former.  In this repect the French soldier revealed an extraordinary knack and on these exhausting detachments lived only for the good of his comrades, almost ignoring his own welfare…”

“The Germans were quite different…  Too many detachments were required for each to be led by an officer … And so the soldier, left to his own devices, thought first of filling his own belly when he found anything to eat.  In the actual hunt for food he was much too slow…  Instead of being content with a quick refreshment, he wanted first to cook everything properly…  As a result he was late, could not overtake the regiment, which had received orders to march in the meantime; and he either turned marauder and stayed in the rear, or else threw his booty away to lighten his load, and rejoined the regiment with little or nothing.”

“…there remained no other method, unfortunately, except to leave most of the supplies to chance or to the zeal of individuals, because the sending-out of detachments had to be abandoned, seeing that a number of men vanished to no purpose, whereas the French foraging parties returned well-laden to camp.”

“… the temperament of the German soldier was not suited to conducting this foraging with the same cunning, speed, self-sacrifice, and camaraderie as were required when swift marches and few halts were customary.”

Faber du Faur, an artillery officer and artist, also served with the Württemberg contingent in the IIIrd Corps.  He did a painting showing troops foraging Near Eve on June 29.  The following description accompanies the painting:  “There has never been a campaign in which tropps have relied so much on living off the land, but it was the way it was done in Russia that caused such universal suffering – for the soldiers of the army as well as for the inhabitants.  Because of its rapid marches and its enormous size, the army faced a dearth of everything and it was impossible to procure event the barest necessity.”

“It was around this time that we reached Eve that one can date the start of this

Near Eve, 9 June
By Faber du Faur

fatal requisitioning and the destruction of the surrounding countryside, which, naturally, had devastating consequences.  Every day, as we broke camp, we could see clouds of marauders and isolated bodies of troops make off in all directions, setting off to find the barest of essentials.  They would return to camp in the evening, laden with their booty.”

“Inevitably, this kind of behavior made an unfortunate impression on Lithuania, which had so long been under the yoke of Russia and, instead of any benefit from its new alliance, saw only the pillaging and oppression wrought by its new allies.  In addition, discipline was sapped, and tolerating or turning a blind eye to these misdemeanors, whether or not they really benefited the troops, only speeded up the destruction of this potentially formidable army.”

Sources: 1812: Naplolen’s Defeat in Russia Antony Brett-James

With Napoleon in Russa: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur Edited and Translated by Jonathan North


A Crowded Road

The purpose of this blog is to tell about what daily life on the campaign was like for the soldiers who experienced it.  Two things that are often overlooked are the fact that the French made up only about half of the 500,000 strong Grandé Armée.  The rest was made up of countries that had been conquered by France and its allies.

The other is that Russia didn’t have a lot of roads.  Marching a few hundred thousand soldiers (with wagons, artillery, cavalry, etc….) down the same narrow, unpaved road and there are bound to be disputes that break down among national lines.  Following is an account from an unnamed artillery lieutenant serving with troops from Würtemberg [Confederation of the Rhine, now part of Germany] in Ney’s IIIrd Corps:

Wurttemberg artillery piece

“Not only the 3rd Corps was on the march, but often the Imperial Guard as well and sometimes several other corps, all on the same road which, on top of all this, was frequently almost impassable for artillery.  As a result serious disagreements were caused every day by the extreme difficulty in observing a regular order of march.  The artillery was particularly bad in this respect, because if anything broke on a wagon or a gun, or if a horse had to be unharnessed on account of exhaustion, the vehicle in question would be cut off by the troops behind, and it was perhaps evening before it reached the bivouac and could rejoin its battery.  Under these circumstances the French infantry were so unpleasant and brutal that their officers, so as to prevent an unfortunate, godforsaken gun from travelling near, let alone in front of them, would more often than not have bayonets leveled at the leading horses and strike the soldiers of the train.  On our side this behavior aroused intense hatred and bitterest resentment…”

The officer wrote that his brigade often marched on the flank of the corps and sometimes, the artillery would not be able to follow them the whole way and would be obliged to return to the main road.

“…When we did this, nobody wanted to let us into the column, and we had to try and secure a tiny place on the road by dint of asking pleasantly, sometimes with insults and oaths, often at sword-point.  I can honestly say that none of the hardships and dangers of this campaign irked me half as much as this daily bickering and squabbling on the march.  As I was the only officer in the battery who spoke French, it always fell to me to conduct these wrangles.”

Source: 1812: Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia by Antony Brett-James

The Army Crosses Germany

To get an army of 600,000 into place was a logistical undertaking itself.  François Dumonceau, a captain in the 2nd Regiment of Chevau-légers lanciers of the Imperial Guard wrote the following account:  “At this time [April] the whole of Germany was covered with columns on the march towards the north, and although these were carefully echelonned so as to avoid any congestion, the countryside was nevertheless trampled down by reiterated and often excessive demands.  All these troops, whether allies (from Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Westphalia, and elsewhere) or the French, were imbued with a fighting spirit which, now that they found themselves once more on a war footing, made them frequently too imperious in their relations with the owners of military billets.  As a result many abuses occurred.  However, Marshals Davout [Ist Corps] and Oudinot [IInd Corps], whose corps were ahead of us, tried to remedy the situation by a regulation which fixed the composition of each meal, for officers as well as for other ranks; among other things, this regulation allowed the officers half a bottle of wine a day.  We found this regulation printed, posted, and strictly observed everywhere.  At the slightest dispute, the local inhabitants took advantage of the regulation; and this helped to guarantee a measure of justice or moderation in our mutual relationships.”

Dumonceau makes an interesting observation about how the troops were regarded by the locals: “Our hosts received us with urbanity, without too much apparent resentment, despite all of the inconveniences we caused them…  They considered us less as accomplices than as victims of these ceaseless wars…”

One eyewitness to the army’s passing was nine-year-old Wilhelm von Kügelgen in Dresden: “I can still see the long dark columns of the Old Guard with their proud eagles, tall bearskins, and martial faces hovering like gloomy dream pictures; first the warlike sound of drums and pipes, then the ghostly figures of the pioneers with glinting axes and long black beards, and behind them the endless columns of transport.”

Letters Home from the Campaign (Never Received)

Jakob Walter’s book, The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier,  includes six letters home from soldiers (none from Walter).  The letters were included by the editor of the book.  They are from fellow Württembergers or Westphalians and ended up in an archive in Leningrad.

In order to keep news from individual soldiers from contradicting Napoleon’s positively worded Bulletins de la Grande Armée during the campaign, letters to home were read and confiscated if they contained news contrary to the Bulletins.  Six of these confiscated letters were eventually sent to the Kingdom of Westphalia government where they eventually came into the possession of a Russian General who turned them over to his government.

Most of the letters were asking for something, usually money, but one was asking for shirts.  The writer, George Bormann, wrote his letter on Christmas Eve 1812.  There are a few interesting things about his letter.  One is that he describes the burning of Moscow, but makes it sound like it burned from a battle:  “Unfortunately we were there [Moscow] only twenty-four hours as the Russian troops pushed forward again and put fire to this city, with grenades and incendiary bombs was this beautiful city destroyed and turned into an ash heap.”  Since there wasn’t an attack on Moscow, I can only assume he was looking at the situation from his point of view and perhaps the burning of the city appeared to be from an attack.

After the city was destroyed “And so we retreated, when many died and I lost my health.  We retreated Twenty-four miles when Emperor Alexander endcircled us with 200,000 in our back and captured us…..they [Russians] did not leave a shirt on our skin.  So you can well imagine, dear parents, in what condition I am in.”   At this point he asks his parents to “… help me out with some shirts.”

The final thing that struck me was his line “More I don’t know what to write than that you will soon get foreign troops.”

Reading the letters I thought about the mail system in those days and the length of time it must have taken for a letter to travel hundreds of miles and then for a return letter to find a soldier in a moving army (in this case, a prisoner of war).  These letters asking for money and shirts were never received and I can imagine the sender waiting day after day for their requests to be answered.  Hopefully, they wrote other letters that made it through.