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History of the Expedition to Russia Undertaken by the Emperor Napoleon in the Year 1812 online

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Quamquam animus meminisse horret, luctuque refugit,
Incipiam - .









[Illustration: Portrait of Napoleon]




I have undertaken the task of tracing the History of the Grand Army and
its Leader during the year 1812. I address it to such of you as the ices
of the North have disarmed, and who can no longer serve their country,
but by the recollections of their misfortunes and their glory. Stopped
short in your noble career, your existence is much more in the past than
in the present; but when the recollections are so great, it is allowable
to live solely on them. I am not afraid, therefore, of troubling that
repose which you have so dearly purchased, by placing before you the
most fatal of your deeds of arms. Who is there of us but knows, that
from the depth of his obscurity the looks of the fallen man are
involuntarily directed towards the splendor of his past existence - even
when its light illuminates the shoal on which the bark of his fortune
struck, and when it displays the fragments of the greatest of

* * * * *

For myself, I will own, that an irresistible feeling carries me back
incessantly to that disastrous epoch of our public and private
calamities. My memory feels a sort of melancholy pleasure in
contemplating and renewing the painful traces which so many horrors have
left in it. Is the soul, also, proud of her deep and numerous wounds?
Does she delight in displaying them? Are they a property of which she
has reason to be proud? Is it rather, that after the desire of knowing
them, her first wish is to impart her sensations? To feel, and to excite
feeling, are not these the most powerful springs of our soul?

* * * * *

But in short, whatever may be the cause of the sentiment which actuates
me, I have yielded to the desire of retracing the various sensations
which I experienced during that fatal war. I have employed my leisure
hours in separating, arranging, and combining with method my scattered
and confused recollections. Comrades! I also invoke yours! Suffer not
such great remembrances, which have been so dearly purchased, to be
lost; for us they are the only property which the past leaves to the
future. Single, against so many enemies, ye fell with greater glory than
they rose. Learn, then, that there was no shame in being vanquished!
Raise once more those noble fronts, which have been furrowed with all
the thunders of Europe! Cast not down those eyes, which have seen so
many subject capitals, so many vanquished kings! Fortune, doubtless,
owed you a more glorious repose; but, such as it is, it depends on
yourselves to make a noble use of it. Let history inscribe your
recollections. The solitude and silence of misfortune are propitious to
her labours; and let truth, which is always present in the long nights
of adversity, at last enlighten labours that may not prove unproductive.

As for me, I will avail myself of the privilege, sometimes painful,
sometimes glorious, of telling what I have seen, and of retracing,
perhaps with too scrupulous attention, its most minute details; feeling
that nothing was too minute in that prodigious Genius and those gigantic
feats, without which we should never have known the extent to which
human strength, glory, and misfortune, may be carried.




CHAP. I. - Political relations of France and Russia since 1807 1

II. - Prussia. - Frederick William 6

III. - Turkey. - Sultans Selim - Mustapha - Mahmoud 18

IV. - Sweden. - Bernadotte 32


CHAP. I. - Feelings of Napoleon's grandees at the approaching
contest - their objections, with Napoleon's replies - real motives which
urged him to the struggle 49

II. - Arguments against the war by the Dukes of Frioul and Vicenza and
the Count de Segur. - Napoleon's replies 56

III. - His manner of gaining proselytes to his opinions - his avowals to
his own family - his discussions with Cardinal Fesch - his declaration to
Prince Kourakin 67

IV. - Circumstances inclining him to delay the contest - his proposals to
England and to Russia - Russian ultimatum 75

V. - Preparations for commencement - Talleyrand - opinions of the
military - of Napoleon's ministers and generals - fresh obstacles to his
departure 80


CHAP. I. - Napoleon's departure from Paris - dispositions of the
east of France - of the Germans - assemblage of sovereigns at
Dresden 86

II. - Arrival in Poland - complaints by the inhabitants of the disorders
of his troops - his ineffectual attempts to check them - meeting with
Davoust - quarrel between that officer and Berthier - unfavourable
impression of Napoleon against the former - arrival at Königsberg 97

III. - March from the Vistula to the Niemen - Napoleon's manners with
the soldiers - positions of the different corps - dispositions of the
army 105


CHAP. I. - Addresses of Napoleon and Alexander to their
respective armies - Position of the Russian forces - Napoleon's plans in
consequence - Sketch of the operations of his left and right wings during
the campaign 115

II. - Passage of the Niemen - Dreadful storm and its fatal
effects - Melancholy catastrophe - Napoleon's arrival at Wilna - Political
arrangements 121

III. - Feelings of the Lithuanians - Napoleon's answer to the address of
the Polish confederation - Coolness of the Lithuanians, and discussion of
its causes 131

IV. - Distress of the army and its excesses - Manner in which Napoleon was
affected by them 143

V. - Arrival of Balachoff from Alexander - Quarrel between Napoleon and
Caulaincourt - Progress of the invading army to the 10th of July 149

VI. - Operations of the King of Westphalia's and of Davoust's
divisions - Perilous situation and narrow escape of Bagration 157

VII. - Napoleon's departure from Wilna - Retreat of the Russian army from
Drissa to Witepsk - Arrival of the different French corps at
Beszenkowiczi - Different partial actions near Witepsk 166

VIII. - General engagement before Witepsk - French attack ordered to
cease in expectation of a decisive battle on the following day - Retreat
of the Russians - Napoleon's disappointment - Position of his different
corps 177


CHAP. I. - Napoleon's first plans for halting at Witepsk - afterwards
abandoned, and his determination to proceed to Smolensk 188

II. - Discussions with the officers of his household - their reasons for
dissuading him from advancing further, and his replies - Feelings of the
army in general 199

III. - Operations of Oudinot's corps against that of Wittgenstein - partial
successes on both sides - Napoleon determines to change his line of
operation 210


CHAP. I. - Manner in which this manoeuvre was effected - The
army crosses the Boristhenes - Character of the Jewish and native
population 216

II. - Surprise of Newerowskoi's corps beyond Krasnoë - Bold retreat of
that officer 222

III. - Movements of the main Russian army - Plans of Barclay - his
dissension with Bagration - hastens to the relief of Smolensk - about to
be surprised by Napoleon - Unsuccessful attack of the French on Smolensk

IV. - Retreat of the Russian army, and fresh disappointment of
Napoleon - Ineffectual attempts of Murat to dissuade his farther
advance - Capture of Smolensk 234

V. - Napoleon's reflections on the conduct of the Russians - Intelligence
of Regnier's victory over Tormasof - Opinions of the Emperor's principal
officers as to the impolicy of proceeding farther 240

VI. - State of the allied army - its immense losses from various causes,
independent of the enemy - Napoleon's professed intention to stop, but
real determination to proceed 248

VII. - Final evacuation of Smolensk by the Russians after setting it on
fire - their army overtaken by Murat and Ney - Death of General
Gudin - Battle of Valoutina - Narrow escape of the Russians in consequence
of Junot's irresolution 254

VIII. - Results of the battle - Recompenses and rewards conferred by
Napoleon - Enthusiasm of the army - Melancholy state of the
wounded - Animosity of the Russian population 264

IX. - Napoleon's plans of moving the Russian peasantry to
insurrection - Conduct of their nobles to ward off the danger - Napoleon's
hesitation as to the plan he should pursue 271

X. - Saint Cyr's victory over Wittgenstein on the 18th of
August - Dissension between Murat and Davoust - Discord in the Russian
camp in consequence of Barclay's continued retreat - Napoleon's advance
to Dorogobouje 276


CHAP. I. - Manner in which the allied army was supplied on its
march - Details of the organization of Davoust's corps 285

II. - Napoleon's bulletin and decrees at Slawkowo - Fresh quarrels
between Murat and Davoust - Description of the Russian mode of retreat
and of Murat's method of pursuit 290

III. - Advance to Wiazma and to Gjatz - Refusal of Davoust to obey
Murat - Full development of the Russian plan of destroying their cities
and towns 297

IV. - Clamours of the Russians against Barclay - Kutusof sent to supersede
him - Great merit of Barclay's plan of retreat 304

V. - Near prospect of a battle - Character of Kutusof - Sanguinary and
partial action on the 4th of September - Anecdote of Murat - Napoleon's
survey of the ground 309

VI. - Disposition of the Russian army on the field of Borodino - Napoleon's
plan of battle 317

VII. - Plan proposed by Davoust rejected by Napoleon - Feelings of the
French army - Proclamation of Napoleon 322

VIII. - Preparations of the Russians - Feelings of their
soldiery - Napoleon's anxiety - his indisposition on the night before the
battle 328

IX. X. XI. - Battle of Borodino on the 7th of September 334

XII. - Results of the battle - immense loss on both sides - faults
committed by Napoleon - how accounted for - incompleteness of his victory

XIII. - Advance to, and skirmish before Mojaisk - Gallantry of fifty
voltigeurs of the 33d - Surprising order in the Russian retreat - Napoleon's
distress 364



CHAP. I. - The Emperor Alexander's arrival at Moscow after his
retreat from Drissa - Description of that city - Sacrifices voted by the
nobility and the merchants to meet the threatened danger 1

II. - Alarm in consequence of the advance of the French
army - Determination of the Governor, Count Rostopchin, and his
preparations for destroying the capital - Evacuation of Moscow by the
principal part of the inhabitants on the 3d of September 10

III. - State of that city just before and after the battle of
Borodino - The Governor's departure 18

IV. - Napoleon advances to Moscow on the 14th of September - Feelings of
the army on approaching it - Disappointment at finding it deserted 27

V. - Murat's entrance into the city 34

VI. - Napoleon's entrance into the Kremlin - Discovery of the
conflagration of the city 38

VII. - Danger which he ran in escaping through the flames to
Petrowsky - Hesitation as to his future plans 47

VIII. - His return to the Kremlin - Description of the camps outside the
city - System of general plunder - Reproaches made to the army, and
vindication of it 52

IX. - Conduct of Kutusof after abandoning Moscow - Rostopchin sets fire to
his seat at Woronowo - Partial actions at Czerikowo and Vinkowo - Anxiety
and uneasiness of Napoleon - consultation with his chief officers - Sends
Lauriston to the Emperor 60

X. - Conference of Lauriston with Kutusof - Artful conduct of the
latter - Armistice - Infatuation of Murat - Distress of the French
army - Warnings of the impending danger - Napoleon's obstinacy in
remaining 71

XI. - Illusions by which he kept up his own and his army's
hopes - Count Daru's advice - Rupture of the armistice - Incapacity
of Berthier - Disastrous engagement at Vinkowo - Napoleon determines
to leave Moscow 82


CHAP. I. - Departure from Moscow - Composition of the army 94

II. - Battle of Malo-Yaroslawetz 98

III. - Distress of the Emperor - Danger which he ran from a sudden attack
of the Cossacks 107

IV. - Field of Malo-Yaroslawetz - Council held by the Emperor - Opinions of
Murat, Bessières, and Davoust - Napoleon determines to retreat 113

V. - Kutusoff's similar determination to retreat from Malo-Yaroslawetz,
ineffectually opposed by Sir Robert Wilson - Napoleon's projected plan of
retreat 118

VI. - Mortier's proceedings at Moscow after the departure of the main
army - Blowing up of the Kremlin - Devastations committed by both
armies - Capture of General Winzingerode - Napoleon's behaviour to him 126

VII. - Arrival at Mojaisk - Alarming news of the Russian army - View of
the field of Borodino 134

VIII. - Abandonment of the wounded in the Abbey of Kolotskoi - Horrible
conduct of the suttlers - Massacre of 2000 Russian prisoners - Arrival at
Gjatz 139

IX. - Napoleon's arrival at Wiazma - Reproaches to Davoust for his tardy
mode of retreat, and that officer's vindication - Danger of the latter
and Eugene - Arrival of Miloradowitch 144

X. - Battle between Eugene and Davoust and Miloradowitch, near Wiazma, on
the 3d November - heavy loss of the French 149

XI. - Dreadful snow-storm on the 6th of November - its effects upon the
troops 155

XII. - Arrival of the intelligence of Mallet's conspiracy - impression
produced by it upon Napoleon and his officers - Message from
Ney - Perilous situation of that marshal 160

XIII. - Defeat and entire dissolution of the Viceroy's corps at the
passage of the Wop 167

XIV. - Arrival at Smolensk - Dreadful sufferings of the troops - Bad
arrangements of the administrators - Reasons assigned by the latter in
their vindication 175


CHAP. I. - Wittgenstein's attack upon Saint Cyr at Polotsk - Retreat of
the latter - Want of concert in the movements of the Russian generals

II. - Junction of the corps of Saint Cyr and Victor at Smoliantzy on the
31st October - Opportunity lost by the latter of defeating the
enemy - General view of the state of the army - Errors committed by
Napoleon and his commanders 192

III. - Napoleon's departure from Smolensk - Dispositions of the Russian
army to interrupt his farther retreat - Bravery of Excelmans - Arrival at
Krasnoë 205

IV. - March of Eugene from Smolensk to Krasnoë with the remains of his
corps - his narrow escape 211

V. - Successful nocturnal attack by Roguet on the Russian camp at
Chickowa - Desperate situation of Napoleon - Wilson's fruitless efforts to
induce Kutusof to surround and destroy him - Battle of Krasnoë - Bravery
of the guard under Mortier 219

VI. - Napoleon's arrival at Dombrowna - Nocturnal false alarm - General
disorganization of the army - Davoust's ineffectual efforts to check it

VII. - Council held at Orcha to determine the farther course of
retreat - Opinion of Jomini - Napoleon decides on Borizof - Quits Orcha on
the 20th of November without hearing any thing of Ney - Re-appearance of
that Marshal after his departure 239

VIII. IX. - Details of Ney's retreat from Smolensk until his arrival at
Orcha 248


CHAP. I. - Capture of Minsk by the Russians - Different opinions
in the army as to the causes of their disasters - Rumoured treachery of
Schwartzenberg - Napoleon's reproaches to him and Schwartzenberg's reply

II. - Details of the loss of Minsk - Movements of Dombrowski, Oudinot, and
Victor - Distress and malady of Napoleon - Remarkable conversation with
Count Daru 278

III. - Passage through the Forest of Minsk - Junction of the remains of
the grand army with Victor and Oudinot's corps - State of the former

IV. V. - Preparations for crossing the Berezina 289

VI. - Circumstances which led the Russian general, Tchaplitz, into error
as to the point where Napoleon was to cross the Berezina, and
consequences of that error - Napoleon crosses that river at Studzianka on
the 27th November 299

VII. - Capture and destruction of Partouneaux's division 304

VIII. - Attack made by the Russians under Wittgenstein and Platof on the
left side, and by Tchitchakof on the right side of the Berezina, and
repelled by the French 308

IX. - The burning of the bridge over the Berezina 315

X. - Napoleon's situation during the preceding actions - Passage over the
morasses - His manners to his officers 321

XI. - Napoleon's arrival at Malodeczno - Announcement on the 3d of
December of his intention to set out for France 325

XII. - Increased severity of the winter - Partial actions of Ney and
Maison with the Russians between Pleszezenitzy and Malodeczno - Quarrel
between Ney and Victor 330

XIII. - Napoleon's arrival at Smorgony - his parting interview with his
marshals 335


CHAP. I. - Napoleon's journey from Smorgony to Paris - Impression
produced in the army by his departure - Dreadful effects of the increased
cold 339

II. - Picture of the sufferings of the army from the cold and the climate

III. - Arrival at Wilna - Consternation of the inhabitants - Fatal effects
of not distributing the provisions collected among the troops - State of
the wounded in the hospitals - Arrival of the Russians - Flight of
Murat - Evacuation of Wilna - Immense losses which that occasioned - Disaster
at Ponari 353

IV. - Details of Ney's mode of retreat - Losses occasioned to the Russians
by the severity of the winter - Arrival at Kowno - Ney's defence and
evacuation of that place 364

V. - First symptoms of Murat's defection - Arrival at Königsberg 372

VI. VII. VIII. IX. - Marshal Macdonald's retreat from Riga - Details of
the defection of the Prussian Army under Yorck 377

X. - Conduct of Schwartzenberg and defection of the Austrians - Atrocities
committed on the French prisoners at Wilna and Königsberg 396

XI. - Defection of Murat 401

XII. - Conclusion 403


I. Portrait of Napoleon to face Title, Vol. I.

II. Map of the countries between Paris and Moscow page 1

III. Passage of the Niemen 124

IV. Portrait of Murat, King of Naples 311

V. Portrait of the Emperor Alexander to face Title, Vol. II.

VI. Conflagration of Moscow 48

VII. Portrait of Marshal Ney 268

VIII. Passage of the Berezina 315

[Illustration: Map of the countries between Paris and Moscow]








Ever since 1807, when the space between the Rhine and the Niemen had
been overrun, the two great empires of which these rivers were the
boundaries had become rivals. By his concessions at Tilsit, at the
expense of Prussia, Sweden, and Turkey, Napoleon had only satisfied
Alexander. That treaty was the result of the defeat of Russia, and the
date of her submission to the continental system. Among the Russians, it
was regarded by some as attacking their honour; and by all it was felt
to be ruinous to their interests.

By the continental system Napoleon had declared eternal war against the
English; to that system he attached his honour, his political existence,
and that of the nation under his sway. That system banished from the
Continent all merchandise which was English, or had paid duty in any
shape to England. He could not succeed in establishing it but by the
unanimous consent of the continental nations, and that consent could not
be hoped for but under a single and universal dominion.

France had besides alienated the nations of Europe from her by her
conquests, and the monarchs by her revolution and her new dynasty.
Henceforward she could no longer look forward to have either friends or
rivals, but merely subjects; for the first would have been false, and
the second implacable: it followed that all must be subject to her, or
she to all.

With feelings of this kind, her leader, influenced by his position, and
urged on by his enterprising character, filled his imagination with the
vast project of becoming the sole master of Europe, by overwhelming
Russia, and wresting Poland from her dominion. He had so much difficulty
in concealing this project, that hints of it began to escape him in all
directions. The immense preparations which so distant an enterprise
required, the enormous quantities of provisions and ammunition
collecting, the noise of arms, of carriages, and the march of such
numbers of soldiers - the universal movement the majestic and terrible
course of all the forces of the West against the East - every thing
announced to Europe that her two colossuses were about to measure their

Online LibraryPhilippe-Paul SegurHistory of the Expedition to Russia Undertaken by the Emperor Napoleon in the Year 1812 → online text (page 1 of 47)