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ANNO 1812





There is no campaign in the history of the world which has left such a deep
impression upon the heart of the people than that of Napoleon in Russia,
Anno 1812.

Of the soldiers of other wars who had not come home it was reported where
they had ended on the field of honor. Of the great majority of the 600
thousand who had crossed the Niemen in the month of June Anno 1812, there
was recorded in the list of their regiments, in the archives "_Disappeared
during the Retreat_" and nothing else.

When the few who had come home, those hollow eyed specters with their
frozen hands, were asked about these comrades who had disappeared during
the retreat, they could give no information, but they would speak of
endless, of never-heard-of sufferings in the icy deserts of the north, of
the cruelty of the Cossacks, of the atrocious acts of the Moushiks and the
peasants of Lithuania, and, worst of all, of the infernal acts of the
people of Wilna. And it would break the heart of those who listened to

There is a medical history of the hundreds of thousands who have perished
Anno 1812 in Russia from cold, hunger, fatigue or misery.

Such medical history cannot be intelligible without some details of the
history of events causing and surrounding the deaths from cold and hunger
and fatigue. And such a history I have attempted to write.

Casting a glance on the map on which the battle fields on the march to and
from Moscow are marked, we notice that it was not a deep thrust which the
attack of the French army had made into the colossus of Russia. From the
Niemen to Mohilew, Ostrowno, Polotsk, Krasnoi, the first time, Smolensk,
Walutina, Borodino, Conflagration of Moscow, and on the retreat the battles
of Winkonow, Jaroslawetz, Wiasma, Vop, Krasnoi, the second time, Beresina,
Wilna, Kowno; this is not a great distance, says Paul Holzhausen in his
book "Die Deutschen in Russland 1812" but a great piece of history.

Holzhausen, whose book has furnished the most valuable material of which I
could avail myself besides the dissertation of von Scherer, the book of
Beaupré and the report of Krantz, and numerous monographs, has brought to
light valuable papers of soldiers who had returned and had left their
remembrances of life of the soldiers during the Russian campaign to their
descendants and relatives who had kept these papers a sacred inheritance
during one hundred years.

The picture in the foreground of all histories of the Russian campaign is
the shadow of the great warrior who led the troops, in whose invincibility
all men who followed him Anno 1812 believed and by whom they stood in their
soldier's honor, with a constancy without equal, a steadfastness which
merits our admiration.

Three fourths of the whole army belonged to nations whose real interests
were in direct opposition to the war against Russia. Notwithstanding that
many were aware of this fact, they fought as brave in battle as if their
own highest interests were at stake. All wanted to uphold their own honor
as men and the honor of their nations. And no matter how the individual
soldier was thinking of Napoleon, whether he loved or hated him, there was
not a single one in the whole army who did not have implicit confidence in
his talent. Wherever the Emperor showed himself the soldiers believed in
victory, where he appeared thousands of men shouted from the depth of their
heart and with all the power of their voices Vive l'Empereur!

A wild martial spirit reigned in all lands, the bloody sword did not ask
why and against whom it was drawn. To win glory for the own army, the own
colors and standards was the parole of the day. All the masses of different
nations felt as belonging to one great whole and were determined to act as

And all this has to be considered in a medical history of the campaign Anno

Throughout Germany, Napoleon is the favorite hero. In the homes of the
common people, in the huts of the peasants, there are pictures ornamenting
the walls, engravings which have turned yellow from age, the frames of
which are worm eaten. These pictures represent a variety of subjects, but
rarely are there pictures missing of scenes of the life of Napoleon.
Generally they are divided into fields, and in the larger middle field you
see the hero of small stature, on a white horse, from his fallow face the
cold calculating eyes looking into a throng of bayonets, lances, bearskin
caps, helmets, and proud eagles. The graceful mouth, in contrast to the
strong projecting chin, modifies somewhat the severity of this face, a face
of marble of which it has been said that it gave the impression of a field
of death, and the man with this face is accustomed to conquer, to reign, to
destroy. He is the inexorable God of war himself, not in glittering armour,
but in a plain uniform ornamented with one single order for personal
bravery. The tuft of hair on his high and broad forehead is like a sign of
everlasting scorn. A gloomy, dreadfully attractive figure. In some of the
pictures we see him in his plain gray overcoat and well-known hat,
surrounded by marshals in splendid dress parade, forming a contrast to the
simplicity of their master, on some elevation from which he looks into
burning cities; again we see him unmoved by dreadful surroundings, riding
through battle scenes of horror.

Over my desk hangs such an old steel engraving, given to me by an old
German lady who told me that her father had thought a great deal of it. On
Saturdays he would wash the glass over the other pictures with water, but
for washing the Napoleon picture he would use alcohol.

Before this man kings have trembled, innumerable thousands have cheerfully
given their blood, their lives; this man has been adored like a God and
cursed like a devil. He has been the fate of the world until his hour
struck. Many say providence had selected him to castigate the universe and
its enslaved peoples. A great German historian, Gervinus, has said: "He was
the greatest benefactor of Germany who removed the gloriole from the heads
crowned by the grace of God." He accomplished great things because he had
great power, he committed great faults because he was so powerful. Without
his unrestricted power he could not have accomplished one nor committed the

History is logic. Whenever great wrongs prevail, some mighty men appear and
arouse the people, and these extraordinary men are like the storm in winter
which shatters and breaks what is rotten, preparing for spring.

The German school boy, when he learns of the greatest warriors and
conquerors, of Alexander the Great, of Julius Caesar, is most fascinated
when he hears the history of the greatest of all the warriors of the world,
the history of Napoleon, and he is spellbound reading the awfully beautiful
histories concerning his unheard of deeds, his rise without example, and
his sudden downfall.

And he, the great man, the soldier-emperor, he rides on his white horse in
the boy's dreams, just as depicted on the engravings upon which the boys
look with a kind of holy awe.

The son of a Corsican lawyer, becoming in early manhood the master of the
world, what could inflame youthful fiction more than this wonderful career?

All great conquerors come to a barrier. Alexander, when he planned to
subdue India, found the barrier at the Indus. Caesar found it at the Thames
and at the Rhine. Our hero's fate was to be fulfilled at Moscow. His
insatiable thirst to rule had led him into Russia. He stood at the height
of his power and glory. Holland, Italy, a part of Germany, were French, and
Germany especially groaned under the heel of severe xenocraty. The old
German Empire had broken down, nothing of it was left but a ridiculous
name, "_Römisches Reich deutscher Nation_." The crowned heads of Germany
held their thrones merely by the grace of Napoleon. Only Spain, united with
England, dared him yet. Since Napoleon could not attack the English
directly, on account of their power at sea, he tried to hit them where they
were most sensitive, at their pocket. He instituted the continental blocus.
Russia with the other lands of Continental Europe had to close her ports
and markets against England, but Russia soon became tired of this pressure
and preferred a new war with Napoleon to French domination.

In giving this sketch of the popularity of Napoleon's memory in Germany, I
have availed myself of a German calendar for the year 1913, called Der
Lahrer hinkende Bote.

Except the English translation of Beaupré's book I have taken from French
and German writings only.

I desire to thank Mr. S. Simonis, of New York, who has revised the entire
manuscript and read the proofs; next to him I am under obligations to
Reichs Archiv Rat Dr. Striedinger, of Munich, and Mr. Franz Herrmann, of
New York, who have loaned me most valuable books and pointed out important
literature, and finally to Miss F. de Cerkez, who has aided me in the
translation of some of the chapters.


Transportation of Cannon under Difficulties

Attack of Cossacks

"And Never Saw Daylight Again,"


Gate of Wilna

In the Streets of Wilna

Retreat Across the Niemen

"No Fear, We Shall Soon Follow You"

In Prison


On May 10th., 1812, the Moniteur published the following note: "The emperor
has left to-day to inspect the Grand Army united at the Vistula." In
France, in all parts of the Empire, the lassitude was extreme and the
misery increasing, there was no commerce, with dearth pronounced in twenty
provinces, sedition of the hungry had broken out in Normandy, the gendarmes
pursuing the "refractories" everywhere, and blood was shed in all thirty

There was the complaint of exhausted population, and loudest was the
complaint of mothers whose sons had been killed in the war.

Napoleon was aware of these evils and understood well their gravity, but he
counted on his usual remedy, new victories; saying to himself that a great
blow dealt in the north, throwing Russia and indirectly England at his
feet, would again be the salvation of the situation.

Caulaincourt, his ambassador to the Tzar, had told him in several
conversations, one of which had lasted seven hours, that he would find more
terrible disaster in Russia than in Spain, that his army would be destroyed
in the vastness of the country by the iron climate, that the Tzar would
retire to the farthest Asiatic provinces rather than accept a dishonorable
peace, that the Russians would retreat but never cede.

Napoleon listened attentively to these prophetic words, showing surprise
and emotion; then he fell into a profound reflection, but at the end of his
revery, having enumerated once more his armies, all his people, he said:
"Bah! a good battle will bring to reason the good determination of your
friend Alexander."

And in his entourage there were many who shared his optimism. The brilliant
youth of that new aristocracy which had begun to fill his staff was anxious
to equal the old soldiers of the revolution, the plebeian heroes.

They prepared for war in a luxurious way and ordered sumptuous outfits and
equipages which later on encumbered the roads of Germany, just as the
carriages of the Prussian army had done in 1806.

These French officers spoke of the Russian campaign as a six months'
hunting party.

Napoleon had calculated not to occupy the country between the Vistula and
the Niemen before the end of May, when the late spring of those regions
would have covered the fields with green, so that the 100 thousand horses
marching with the army could find feed.

He traversed Germany between a double lane of kings, and princes bowed in
an attitude of adoration.

He found them at Mainz, at Wuerzburg, at Bamberg, and his advance might be
compared to the royal progress of an Asiatic potentate.

Whole populations were turned out to salute him, and during the night the
route over which the imperial carriages passed was illuminated by lighted
piles of wood - an extensive line of fire in his honor.

At Dresden he had the attendance of an emperor (that of Austria) and of
kings and reigning princes, who were present at his levees, together with
their prime ministers (the better to catch, to report, the words he said,
however insignificant) while high German dignitaries waited on him at the

The Emperor and the Empress of Austria had come at their own desire to
salute their daughter and their son-in-law and to present their good wishes
for the success of the great expedition.

Twelve days in succession he had at dinner the Emperor and Empress of
Austria, the King and Queen of Saxony, the Saxon princes, the Prince
Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine - even the King of Prussia was
present; he offered his son for adjutant, which offer, however, Napoleon
was tactful enough not to accept.

All the kings and reigning princes from the other States of Germany
presented their best wishes and pledged faithfulness to Napoleon in his war
against Russia.

Around the French emperor and empress at Dresden there was a court the like
of which Europe had never seen and never will see again.

A Te Deum was sung to thank heaven for his arrival; there was a magnificent
display of fireworks, but the climax of all was a great concert with an
apotheosis showing, as the principal figure, the sun with the inscription:
"Less great and less beautiful than He." "It appears that these people take
me for very stupid," said Napoleon to this, shrugging his shoulders.

In speaking to one of his intimates he called the King of Prussia a
sergeant instructor, _une bête_, but openly he treated him with great

He made rich presents: gold and enameled boxes, jewelry and portraits of
himself enriched with costly stones. During the happy days of Dresden he
enjoyed for once an intimate family life.

On one occasion he held a long conversation with his father-in-law, during
which he developed his plans of the Russian campaign, with minute and
endless military details of which the emperor of Austria, being no
strategist at all, understood nothing and said afterward: "My son-in-law is
alright here," pointing to the heart, "but here" - pointing to the
forehead - he made a significant gesture.

This criticism of Napoleon by the Emperor of Austria became popular and has
been accepted by many writers. All reproaches about Cesarian insanity which
were cast at the great man and his whole life date from that time. Some
have said that he wanted to conquer England and Russia because these two he
considered the arch enemies of Europe, that he foresaw the threatening
growth of these two countries as dangerous, and if he did not take
advantage of the good opportunity the future of Europe would be at the
mercy of Russia and England.

The conquest of Russia was the keynote of his universal policy.

The much calumniated blocus, say other writers, would finally have been the
greatest blessing for continental Europe; its aim had already been attained
in so far as many London houses failed, and famine reigned on the British
islands in consequence of the high cost of living.

And these writers say Napoleon had by no means become insane, but, on the
contrary, frightfully clear. Another explanation given was that he worried
about his dynasty, his child, entertaining fear that his empire might fall
to pieces after his death, like the empire of Charles the Great.

Although he was enjoying good health, he had been warned by his physician,
_Corvisart_, of cancer of the stomach, from which Napoleon's father had
died. Some suspicious black specks had been observed in the vomit.
Therefore no time was to be lost, all had to be done in haste.

The rupture originated with Russia, for at the end of the year 1810 the
Tzar annulled the blocus and even excluded French goods or placed an
inordinate duty on them - this was, in fact, a declaration of war. Russia
wanted war while the Spanish campaign was taxing France's military forces.

The only reliable report of Napoleon's communications at St. Helena has
been given by General de Gourgaudin the diary which he kept while with the
Emperor from 1815 to 1818, and which has been published in the year 1898.
Here is what Napoleon said on this subject:

On June 13th., 1816, he remarked in conversation with _Gourgaud_, "I did
not want the war with Russia, but _Kurakin_ presented me a threatening
note on account of _Davout's_ troops at Hamburg. _Bassano_ and
Champagny_ were mediocre ministers, they did not comprehend the intention
which had dictated that note. I myself could not argue with _Kurakin_. They
persuaded me that it meant declaration of war. Russia had taken off several
divisions from Moldavia and would take the initiative with an attack on
Warsaw. _Kurakin_ threatened and asked for his passports. I myself believed
finally they wanted war. I mobilized! I sent _Lauriston_ to Alexander,
but he was not even received. From Dresden I sent _Narbonne_, everything
convinced me that Russia wanted war. I crossed the Niemen near Wilna.

"Alexander sent a General to me to assure me that he did not wish war; I
treated this ambassador very well, he dined with me, but I believed his
mission was a trick to prevent the cutting off of _Bagratian_. I
therefore continued the march.

"I did not wish to declare war against Russia, but I had the impression
that Russia wanted to break with me. I knew very well the difficulties of
such a campaign."

_Gourgaud_ wrote in his diary a conversation which he had with Montholon on
July 9th., 1817. "What was the real motive of the Russian campaign? I know
nothing about it, and perhaps the Emperor himself did not know it. Did he
intend to go to India after having dethroned the Moscowitic dynasty? The
preparations, the tents which he took along, seem to suggest this

Montholon answered: "According to the instructions which I, as ambassador,
received I believe that His Majesty wanted to become Emperor of Germany,
that he aimed to be crowned as '_Emperor of the West_'. The Rhenish
Confederation was made to understand this idea. In Erfurt it was already a
foregone conclusion, but Alexander demanded Constantinople, and this
Napoleon would not concede."

At another conversation Napoleon admitted "I have been too hasty. I should
have remained a whole year at the Niemen and in Prussia, in order to give
my troops the much needed rest, to reorganize the army and also to eat up

All these details, Napoleon's admission included, show that nobody knew and
nobody knows why this gigantic expedition was undertaken. Certain is,
however, that England had a hand in the break between Napoleon and

When Napoleon called on the generals to lead them into this expedition they
all had become settled to some extent, some in Paris, others on their
possessions or as governors and commanders all over Europe, which at that
time meant France; in consequence there existed a certain displeasure among
these officers, especially among the older ones and those of high rank.

The high positions which he had created for them and the rich incomes which
they enjoyed had developed their and their wives' taste for a luxurious and
brilliant mode of living. Besides, most of them, as well as their master,
had attained the age between forty and fifty, their ambition gradually had
relented, they had enough; and the family with which they had been together
for very brief periods only between two campaigns, clung to them now and
held them tightly.

Notwithstanding these conditions, they all came when the Emperor called;
after they had shaken off wife and children and had mounted in the saddle,
while the old veterans and the young impatient soldiers were jubilant
around them, they regained their good humor and went on to new victories,
the brave men they always had been.

Especially at first when, at the head of their magnificent regiments, they
marched eastward through the conquered lands, from city to city, from
castle to castle, like masters of the world, when in Dresden they met their
comrades in war and their friends, and when they saw how all the crowned
heads of Europe bowed before their Emperor, then the Grand Army was in its

As we know from history the Grand Army had contingents from twenty
nationalities: Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Austrians, Swiss, Spaniards,
Portuguese, Poles, Illyrians, etc., and numbered over half a million men,
with 100 thousand horses, 1,000 cannon.

According to Bleibtreu (Die grosse Armee, Stuttgart, 1908), and Kielland
(Rings um Napoleon, Leipzig, 1907) the Grand Army was made up as follows:

_First Corps_ - Davout, six divisions of the best troops under the command
of Morand, Friant, Gudin. In this corps were, besides French, Badensian,
Dutch, and Polish regiments. Davout commanded also 17 thousand Prussian
soldiers under General Grawert. Among the generals were Compans and Pajol,
the engineer Haxo, and the handsome General Friederich 67,000

_Second Corps_ - Oudinot with the divisions of Generals Merle, Legrand,
Maison, Lannes' and Massena's veterans 40,000

_Third Corps_ - Ney with two divisions of veterans of Lannes; to this corps
belonged the Wuerttembergians who had served under Ney before 49,000

_Fourth Corps_ - Prince Eugene with Junot as second commander, and the
Generals Grouchy, Broussier, the two brothers Delzon. In this corps were
the best soldiers of the Italian army 45,000

_Fifth Corps_ - Prince Poniatowski. Soldiers of all arms, mostly Poles
26,000 Sixth Corps - General St Cyr. Mostly foreigners who had served in
the French army since 1809 25,000

_The Sixth Corps_ - General St Cyr. Mostly foreigners who had served in the
French army since 1809 25,000

_The Seventh Corps_ - General Reynier. Mostly Saxons and Poles 17,000

_The Eighth Corps_ - King Jerome. Westphalians and Hessians 18,000

Besides, there were four corps of reserve cavalry distributed among the
corps of Davout, Oudinot, and Ney; the rest, excellent horsemen, marched
with the Imperial Guard 15,000

_The Imperial Guards_ were commanded by the Marshals Mortier and Lefebvre
and were divided into two corps, the old guard and the young guard 47,000

There was the engineer park, composed of sappers, miners, pontooneers and
military mechanicians of all descriptions, the artillery park, and train of
wagons with attendants and horses. To these two trains alone belonged 18
thousand horses.

In the active army which marched toward Russia there were 423 thousand well
drilled soldiers; namely, 300 thousand infantry, 70 thousand cavalry and 30
thousand artillery with 1 thousand cannon, 6 pontoon trains, ambulances,
and also provisions for one month.

As reserve, the ninth corps - Marshal Victor - and the tenth
corps - Augereau - were stationed near Magdeburg, ready to complete the army

The whole army which marched to Russia consisted of 620 thousand men.

The question of subsistence for this immense body occupied Napoleon
chiefly. He felt the extraordinary difficulty and great danger, he knew
that at the moment of coming in contact with the enemy all the corps would
be out of supplies in twenty or twenty-five days if there were no great
reserves of bread, biscuit, rice, etc., closely following the army.

His system was that of requisition. To secure the needed supplies the
commanders of the corps were ordered to seize in the country all the grain
which could be found and at once to convert it into flour, with methodic

Napoleon himself superintended and hastened the work. At twenty different
places along the Vistula he had the grinding done unceasingly, distributing
the flour thus obtained among the corps and expediting its transport by
every possible means. He even invented new measures for this purpose, among
which the well-known formation of battalions of cattle, an immense rolling
stock destined to follow the columns to serve twofold: for transportation
of provisions, and finally as food.

With the beginning of June these supreme preparations had been made or
seemed to have been made. In the lands through which the troops were to
march before they reached the Niemen, the spring had done its work; there

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