Статья 'Смоленск в осенне-зимней кампании 1812 года по воспоминаниям современников.' - журнал 'Genesis: исторические исследования' - NotaBene.ru
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Genesis: Historical research

Smolensk in the autumn-winter campaign of 1812 according to the memoirs of contemporaries.

Ovchinnikov Vladimir Mikhailovich

PhD in History

Associate Professor, Department of Methods of Teaching subjects of basic and secondary Education, GAU DPOS SOIRO

214000, Russia, Smolenskaya oblast', g. Smolensk, ul. Rumyantseva, 8, of. 412

Other publications by this author








Abstract: The article discusses the main features of the conduct of hostilities in the autumn of 1812 in Russia, and the role of Smolensk in Napoleon's strategic plans for the subsequent period. On the basis of the epistolary heritage, primarily of French contemporaries (both soldiers and officers), the specific aspects of the retreat of the Great Army along the Old Smolensk Road are considered, another facet of the Moscow campaign of the Emperor of all the French is demonstrated. The author also draws attention to the activities of the occupation authorities in Smolensk itself, based on creating conditions for turning the city into a powerful operational base for the entire army. В  The main conclusions of the study are the following theses: 1. Numerous memoirs of contemporaries pay rather close attention to the problem of the retreat of the Great Army to the Smolensk region, giving quite detailed descriptions of both the life itself and the possible prospects for the further course of the campaign. 2. A number of indirect evidences demonstrate attempts to turn the city into an operational base that allows preparing troops for the next campaign in the East, which is indirectly confirmed by descriptions of attempts to create local self-government bodies in the city. 3. Smolensk in numerous French memoirs devoted to the campaign of 1812 was presented as a symbol of the drama that broke out in Russia. 4. In the Russian epistolary heritage of the epoch, the corresponding descriptions contain a sense of transformation of mass consciousness, in the conditions of a new practice for humanity called "total war". 5. In general, summing up the general results of the consideration of Smolensk in the autumn-winter campaign of 1812, it can be argued that its role as a moral barrier in Napoleon's desire to continue hostilities and the importance of the city as a strategic point has been insufficiently studied until now and requires a very deep analysis


Smolensk, retreat, Napoleon, weather conditions, supply, demoralization, forage, epidemics, looting, food

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

Traditionally, describing the Russian campaign of Napoleon, the closest attention is paid primarily to the events of the summer of 1812, this period is considered by many military experts, including the Emperor of France himself, as a kind of core of events in Russia, describing the fighting in the autumn-winter of 1812 only as a chain of tragic accidents and episodes of agony stretched over time...

Nevertheless, upon closer examination of the events of October-November 1812, they do not fit into such an interpretation of events, and cannot be characterized by Napoleon's famous phrase: "Enough courage; we have done too much for glory, now it's time to think only about saving the remnants of the army" [13, p.77].

Numerous descriptions of contemporaries, first of all, draw before us the brightest picture of events, filled not only with a sense of imminent catastrophe and a mad desire to survive thousands and thousands of people, but also a magnificent palette of other feelings and emotions carefully preserved by their owners.

Of very significant interest in the context of the problem under consideration are the diaries and letters of Caesar Loge and I. Roy and others - demonstrating the most vivid picture of the autumn-winter events of 1812. The correspondence of a number of French officers deserves undoubted attention, in which one can find a huge number of everyday details telling about the retreat of the Great Army to Smolensk. Also of considerable interest are the letters and small diary entries of Napoleon's staff officers, no doubt complementing the overall picture of events.

In order to create a complete picture, along with this, numerous arguments of the emperor himself were also considered, giving an opportunity to sum up some of the reflections, ideas and plans of his numerous associates. At the same time, most contemporaries, and in some cases researchers, limit themselves to analyzing the autumn-winter events of the campaign of 1812.

At the same time , K.Clausewitz[7] was one of the first to characterize the strategic retreat to and from Smolensk, its logic and features, emphasizing its exceptional importance for understanding the campaign of 1812. "Since Kutuzov in Tarutin was three or four marches closer to Smolensk than Napoleon in Moscow, the latter believed that it would be better if he began his retreat with a kind of offensive operation and threw Kutuzov first to Kaluga so that later some secondary road, for example, to Medyn And Yukhnov, go to Dorogobuzh. Thus, before actually starting the retreat, he would have eliminated the advantage that Kutuzov had in front of him, since from Maloyaroslavets along the named road is no further to Smolensk than from Kaluga. The fact that this method of retreat began with a seemingly new offensive to the south was morally important for Napoleon"[7]. It must be admitted that even then Napoleon did not have the initiative in conducting military operations, which was very accurately noticed by his entourage.

In those conditions, having the highest degree of relative freedom of maneuver, the French, still feeling like winners in the Moscow battle, leave the first capital of Russia on October 19. If you focus on the words of the Boss: "At the moment of departure, Napoleon was calm again as usual; he looked calm and confident. And this is how I see him all the time of our retreat." [16, p.452]

Despite the relatively favorable situation, both strategic and tactical, almost immediately after leaving Moscow, numerous discussions about the prospect of a "tactical retreat" to preserve their strategic positions up to the territory of "Russian Poland" and even further to Vilna appear in the correspondence of numerous French officers. In a letter dated October 14, written presumably in the Moscow suburbs, an unknown author claimed that the army would retreat towards the Baltic States, where it would probably remain until next year [2, l.42]. However, quite quickly the opinion took root in the troops that Smolensk would become the main operational base for the winter period of 1812-1813, and only when it became obvious that this was impossible, the retreat to Vilna became the main goal of the campaign of 1812 in the mass consciousness [1, l.7]. At the same time, a significant number of officers sincerely hoped for a speedy conclusion of peace in the near future, which was associated with the prospect of a speedy return to their homeland, there were also those who hoped to be in Paris before the end of the year [1, L.62;3, L.17-18].     

It should be mentioned that during this period the Napoleonic army loses its main quality - exceptional mobility in the realities of the XIX century. The previously mentioned Bosse describes a rather interesting episode related to the desire of a whole troupe of actors (presumably French) to join the troops. In relation to this fact, it is worth mentioning another interesting event - representatives of the old French elite, or emigrant nobles, left Moscow en masse and joined the retreating army, while being, as many contemporaries pointed out, under the special patronage of the emperor.

In the new conditions of warfare, the convoy grew with incredible speed, which undoubtedly worried a lot of people. Ferizak describes a huge convoy of the third corps, containing an incredibly large number of wagons and carriages [16, pp.457-458]. Pion de Losh describes in detail his numerous reserves prepared by him in case of wintering in the Neman area, which he did not doubt, as can be seen from his writings [20, p.305-307].

More than fifty kilometers of space has turned into an endless mass of carts and carriages, which in turn is indicated by Coignet. And yet, this is a triumph, according to the French themselves: "from all sides, the booty of the winners was seen, the pride they felt when carrying away all these things may have exceeded the very pleasure of owning them"[16, p.461;12, p.481-548].

The main apartment wagon train consisted of 10,000 wagons. The author of these lines - Pastore points out a very interesting detail: "When later all our baggage was plundered, the poverty of those who had to order and the apparent wealth of those who had to obey contributed not a little to the emergence of disorder in the army and the weakening of discipline"[12, p.462].

If we take into account the assurances of a number of officers of the Grand Army, the French had "up to 100,000 soldiers fit for battle," however, as Yelin points out, "we moved hard and howled, our faces were gloomy and dissatisfied, and the path that could be done in 24-25 hours, we, burdened with loot, and after a long rest passed barely 7 days"s[18,s.5-8].

The lie mentions that by about October 20, Napoleon was forced to retreat to Smolensk, ordering the destruction of everything that could not be taken with him, and more importantly, General Evers, who was speaking from Vyazma, had to establish communications on the Yukhnov-Smolensk line with the help of a detachment of 4000-5000 people [9, p.209].

After the events near Maloyaroslavets, which one of his contemporaries called a retreat after a won battle [9,p.227], Napoleon characterized the course of events in a somewhat different way: "This is what it means to be one hour late" [17,p.316], the French army begins to retreat at about the same time as Kutuzov states: "Kaluga is waiting for the fate of Moscow" [17, p.318].

It is amazing how unexpectedly the tone of the descriptions of the winter campaign of 1812 changes, at the beginning of November, an army still ready for battle is described near Maloyaroslavets, French units already retreating to Vyazma are already a handful of unfortunate people against whom even the elements have taken up arms [9,232-237,367].

French officers identify several important factors that may seem like trifles to us, but they led to the final catastrophe of the great army:

- sudden weather changes in early November. On this occasion , Napoleon said the following: "Since the temperature dropped below 9 degrees in any corps of the French army, I no longer see a single general in his place [17, p.326].

- the loss, and mainly by the French units, of a huge number of horses due to the use of mostly "non-studded horseshoes", the result was a mass death of horses assigned to both cavalry, and primarily heavy, and artillery.

- constant attacks of French columns by small, mobile detachments of Cossacks, which on the one hand could easily be dispersed, but their constant raids greatly demoralized the French units [6, p. 89, 91-98.]. French contemporaries of these events, along with the mention of numerous Cossack attacks, which for the most part were scattered, as as already mentioned earlier, it is often mentioned that the destruction of numerous bridges and fords by the Russian irregular cavalry, which was a much greater disaster for the retreating army than the constant attacks of the enemy.

- the famine most vividly described by contemporaries is destroying the army right before our eyes in every sense of the word. The behavior of people in such an extreme situation was very different, and although complete indifference to one's neighbor and a thirst for profit reigned everywhere, many authors described the touching willingness of comrades to share the latter.

The facts presented in the numerous memoirs of eyewitnesses clearly demonstrate the conditions of retreat within the Smolensk province, and eloquently say that, psychologically, the soldiers and officers of the Great Army preserved what is called the "spirit of the army". 

The situation was seriously destabilized by the exceptionally poor supply of troops, primarily the linear French units, which, unlike the Poles and other of their Eastern European allies of Napoleon, did not even try to find a common language with the local population. Some officers often spoke with exceptional warmth about local peasants who helped them in a critical situation, and even in some cases sheltered them from Cossack patrols, etc.

Taking into account the presence of a powerful irritant - which was the relatively good supply of the guard, speculation and frequent quarrels with the civilian population flourished in the line units, which moved along with the army units, and was provided with food, albeit to a small extent, such phenomena made the overall situation extremely unstable.

In the truest sense of the word, the soldiers lived the dream that they would get everything they needed in Smolensk, the units sent from which were strikingly different from those that moved from Dorogobuzh. This gave thousands and thousands of hungry and half-frostbitten people hope, forced at that time to sleep in the open at night, and during the day to move through the devastated territories along the Old Smolensk Road, therefore, if the soldiers managed to occupy some building, it became a real success for them, as described by one of the eyewitnesses as follows: "My comrades and I found a place to sleep in a room with a stove. There are 12 of us here. And I think that the best apartment in the world would not give me more pleasure. It is very warm here and I was able to take off my boots, which brought me great joy"[1, l.47].

Another of the participants in the events describes these tragic days as follows: "After the rain, frosts came; today the ice is so strong that it holds loaded carts; winter is in the yard, and with it thousands of unimaginable disasters. People are dying in bivouacs from the cold. We are forced to put soldiers in buildings at night. The sick and wounded, who are able to walk, are sent back on returning trucks, and, meanwhile, there are so many patients all along the Moscow road that there is no way to place them in hospitals that have been too crowded for a long time" [19, p.105-106].

Such hardships were compounded by numerous cases of looting, a huge number of quarrels and brawls that arose over food, murders of horses still fit for transportation of tools, and even cannibalism. It is worth adding to this that in such a critical situation, the scale of rumors spread in the army was very significant, which further destabilized the situation. Taking into account the sharp drop in discipline, some parts begin to turn into quasi-groups that do not have a stable system of connections and social structure, which in turn intensified the atmosphere of tension on the outskirts of Smolensk, the oppressive feeling of which can be traced in letters from an unknown author from Smolensk to Bezier, where, among other things, a recipe for stew from a cat that caused a real a storm of delight from those who tasted it: "this dish deserved praise from those who tasted it" [1, l.39ob].

Descriptions in a similar tone can also be found in the environment to which Henri Marie Beil, who held the position of assistant military commissar of the small imperial apartment, who wrote to his father in Grenoble, belonged: "I lost all my food supplies and lived for 18 days, eating killer soldiers' bread and water"[1, l.76].

So, the units of the Great Army, turning into a mass of people, rushed to Smolensk, hoping to find salvation there. Such aspirations were well-founded if we focus on the point of view of Napoleon himself, who back in August 1812, as Armand de Caulaincourt states: "tried to make Smolensk, as he said, an axis and a reliable hub of his communications in case he was forced to go further against his will. Day and night he worked with Count Daryu (he held the position of Secretary of State) to settle administrative issues in all details, and in particular the issue of food and hospital supplies" [8, p.109].

It must be admitted that rumors began to spread quite quickly in the troops that Smolensk would become the wintering place of the Great Army, where large stocks of food and fodder were to be collected. Mr. Granal wrote to his wife on November 7 that the army should stop for the winter in Smolensk, and the next year "... we will go and burn, or force them to burn themselves, St. Petersburg" [3, L.3,4,62]. The Emperor of all the French probably planned to continue the campaign after the winter break, making central Russia, and more specifically Smolensk, his operational base, including singling out the capital of the Russian Empire among possible targets for the spring-summer campaign.

It is very significant that the French pay the closest attention to strengthening the territories adjacent to the city. Napoleon himself, joking with the head of the relevant works, General de Chaslu, said: "Do you really want to arrange a new Alexandria for me here and eat another 50 million from me?" [8, p.109]

However, it must be admitted that the situation was clearly not conducive to this. Describing the events preceding this conversation, Caulaincourt mentions with regret that: "... they themselves set fire to their buildings in Smolensk, and the whole nature of this war, during which both sides mutually destroyed each other and we achieved no other result than winning territory"[8, pp.109-110].

Segur was even more eloquent: "It was a spectacle without an audience, the victory was almost fruitless, bloody glory and the rack surrounding us was as if the only result of our victory"[14, p.70].

"Smolensk in the August days of 1812 turned into a huge hospital, and the great groan that stood over the city drowned out the cry of victory"[14,79].

The French official de Puibusque characterized the situation in the brightest colors: Before, it used to happen that no general would enter the battle without carrying infirmary trucks; but now everything is different: the bloodiest battles begin whenever you want" [19, p.58].

The dead bodies are piled up right there, next to the dying, in courtyards and gardens; there are no spades or hands to bury them in the ground. They have already begun to rot; an unbearable stench is on all the streets, it is even more increased from the city ditches, where large heaps of dead bodies are still piled up, as well as many dead horses cover the streets and surroundings of the city. All these abominations, in fairly hot weather, made Smolensk the most obnoxious place on the globe" [19, p.59]."

This implies not only the complete destruction of the city, but also numerous problems of a different plan: the abundance of dead and injured animals, as well as people on the streets (the collection of corpses was incredibly slow), against this background, contemporaries mention mass poisoning with poor-quality water and so on. The solution of such a wide range of issues was entrusted to the military authorities headed by the Governor-General and the military Governor, who were subordinate to the commandant of the city, numerous quartermaster service, as well as hastily created local self-government bodies. The military authorities in the city were represented by the following officers: the Governor-General from August 29 to October 29 was Divisional General Louis Baraget d'Illiers, Count of the Empire, then this position was assumed until November 17 by Divisional General Henri Francois Charpentier, Count of the Empire.The military governor was initially Brigadier General Antoine Henri Jomini, Baron of the Empire, and then Brigadier General Joseph Barbanegre, Baron of the Empire, Boset became commandant, Napoleon appointed Kriegs Commissar General Armand Charles Villeblanche as chief quartermaster[21]. The following were also established: the Supreme Commission, the city municipality, county and district commissioners, and their assistants[4, p.300].

Initially, the Supreme Commission, which was the main governing body of the region under the leadership of the already mentioned army quartermaster, dealt with the issue of establishing supplies, for which the institute of commissars in charge of supply was created. It included: landowner Golynsky, Furso-Zhirkevich and Sanko-Leshevich [4, p.301].

Subordinate to the Supreme Commission was the municipality, which was periodically called temporary, in which it is possible to find persons of different nationalities, social status and origin, forced to perform their duties. It is very significant that there was also a person of spiritual rank – Priest fr. Leonty Shiryaev (the Yakovlevichi parish of the Yelninsky district) and a representative of the bureaucracy – titular adviser Nikolai Grigoryevich Velikanov, assistant secretary of the Smolensk Spiritual Consistory, etc.

The Smolensk municipality was headed by titular councilor Vasily Matveevich Yaroslavtsev, Rutkovsky was his "comrade", the teacher of the Smolensk gymnasium Efremov was the "general secretary", the body itself consisted of 10 members, 30 officials were assigned to it[11, p.126,130-135;10,p.185].

The city government is located in the building of the former city magistrate (near the church of the Hodegetria). "According to the orders of the higher authorities, the municipality, as can be seen from the correspondence, demanded people and carts to perform various works, called contractors to fix mills, ordered the delivery of provisions and fodder from the villages, monitored cleanliness in the city and apartment order, translated various orders of the French authorities into Russian"[4, p.303].

"Without special orders, the municipality: 1) On petitions, he accepted borrowed letters to appear; 2) in case of complaints from landowners and their managers about the robbery of the French, disobedience of the peasants, he presented to the intendant about the appointment of commissars for the county to suppress robbery and pacification, requiring security teams for this; 3) on the petitions of state peasants who complained about their ruin, he presented to the intendant, who he allowed the peasants to take bread from the fields of the landlords who had left, but to use only the fourth sheaf; 4) presented about collecting money for renting shops and houses; at the same time, the intendant, taking into account "that the officials of the municipality have neither clothes nor shoes and without food appointed to give them from 15 to 200 francs."[4, p.303].

Such administrative actions, however, did not lead to any positive results, which is primarily due to the lack of infrastructure to create an effective supply system within the region, which forced the creation of a large number of units, subsequently reduced to a division, whose main function, contrary to the Emperor's requirements, was to collect supplies and fodder.

de Puybusque, who witnessed these events, writes: "We have received orders to send everyone from Smolensk to the army who is only able to walk, even those who have not yet fully recovered. I don't know why they send children here, weak people who have not completely recovered from their illness; they all come here only to die. Despite all our efforts to clean the hospitals and send back all the wounded who are only able to endure the trip, the number of patients is not decreasing, but increasing, so there is a real infection in the infirmaries. The heart breaks when you see old, honored soldiers, suddenly distraught, crying every minute, rejecting all food and dying three days later. They look with bulging eyes at their acquaintances, and do not recognize them, their body swells, and death is inevitable. Some people's hair stands on end, they become as hard as ropes. The unfortunate die from a stroke of paralysis, uttering the most terrible curses. Two soldiers who had been in the hospital for only five days died yesterday, and from the second day until the last minute of their lives they did not stop singing" [5, p.295].

The sanitary situation in the city left much to be desired, to put it mildly, one of the participants in those events mentions: "woe to the wounded, why didn't they let themselves be killed? The poor wretches would have given their last shirt to dress their wounds; now they have not a scrap, and the lightest wounds become fatal. But most of all, hunger destroys people..."[19, p.59]

"Even cattle are subject to sudden death: horses that seem quite healthy today, fall dead the next day. Even those of them who used good pastures suddenly begin to shake their legs and immediately fall dead. Recently, 50 carts pulled by Italian and French oxen arrived; they were apparently healthy, but none of them took food; many of them fell and died an hour later. They were forced to kill the surviving oxen in order to have at least some benefit from them. All the butchers and soldiers with axes have been summoned, and, strange! despite the fact that the oxen were free, not tied, not even a single one was held – not one of them moved to avoid the blow, as if they themselves were putting their forehead under the butt. Such a phenomenon has been observed repeatedly, every new transport on oxen presents the same spectacle" [19, p.94-95].

"At this time, as I am writing this letter, 12 people are in a hurry to unhitch and kill the hundred oxen that have now arrived with the trucks of the ninth corps. The entrails of the slaughtered animals are thrown into a pond located in the middle of the square where I live, where many human corpses have also been dumped since we occupied the city. Imagine the sight that I have before my eyes, and what kind of air I have to breathe! The spectacle is still hardly seen by anyone, striking with horror the bravest and most fearless warrior, and, indeed, it is necessary to have a firmness of spirit above human to look indifferently at all these horrors" [19, p.95-96].

The Smolensk priest Nikifor Murzakevich describes this terrible situation in approximately the same way, speaking about the depression and despair that reigned among the local population. Further characteristics are associated with numerous descriptions of pogroms, robberies and fires, the logical continuation of which is the entry from September 7: "silence and rare fires"[10, p.186], there is another mention telling about attempts to combat looting and the general situation in the city in the autumn of 1812: "The commandant distributed security orders to the residents of the city tickets that were nailed to the gates of houses so that looters would not touch, especially passing teams. Looters plundered bread more. A loaf of bread mixed with bran in 15 pounds cost from two rubles and a half and up to four. The Mogilev Jews brought provisions, and the peasants, forced by the commissars - under penalty of punishment. They sold bread for five kopecks per pound; a pound of beef up to 12 kopecks, a small glass of vodka 25 kopecks. Such cheapness was not for long. At night, the regiments began to pass through Smolensk: the beginning of the return march of the enemies...Bread is rare and expensive, we eat potatoes and all kinds of greens. The French give silver for a piece of wheat bread: they do not tolerate rye. Robbing yards and taking things, then they throw them anywhere. Only the expensive and easy are taken away."[10,c.186-187].

Robberies in the city were apparently a regular phenomenon, however, as many contemporaries of the events mention, Poles and soldiers from numerous German principalities looted the city, the French, in turn, began to take active measures to normalize life in the city in August – September. Due to the numerous destructions of the city upon its capture, it no longer answered the tasks set before it by Napoleon, which were already mentioned earlier, while the city's population decreased to 700 people, although through the efforts of the occupiers, many who fled the city began to return, the local authorities established a strict access regime, fearing the destruction of their supply lines.

"By the efforts of the residents, the streets of the city were cleared of corpses, and the dead bodies were buried. Residents ate exclusively black bread and fruits, for which there was a large harvest that year, and for lack of bread, they collected rye and millet on the site of the bread store that burned down on Molokhovskaya Square, steamed them in pots and ate. The French were very surprised by such food, since they could not even eat black bread without painful results" [5, p.6].

Jews from Mogilev and Orsha provided food supplies to the city, more or less functioning supply lines passing through the Baltic States. Through the efforts of local self-government bodies, the peasants began to deliver provisions to the city, but this was not enough, taking into account the constantly increasing demands of the main forces moving towards Moscow. Despite the creation of numerous bakeries in the city, they mostly did not function due to the lack of flour, thus Smolensk was unable to fulfill its main tasks as a French operational base. 

The early cold weather was approaching, the French administration in the city was working with a very insignificant degree of efficiency, panic is not yet manifested to a significant extent, but many facts indicate that the morale of the French troops was broken even before the cold weather began: "every day wounded generals and officers return to Prussia without waiting for recovery; many of them without without any permission, they go to Vilna for the first case as a precaution" [19, p.111-112]. One of the eyewitnesses wrote about these events as follows: "Duty and honor keep me only in Smolensk, and I decided to wait for my fate here. I ordered the baking of loaves day and night in order to have in reserve for our unfortunate compatriots. But the trouble is, the lower servants almost all ran away, and the rest were forced to hold bayonets.

The large herds of cattle I collected near the city were repulsed by enemy light detachments, and the remaining ones were sent by me to Krasny. Even detachments of our troops located in the vicinity of the city are forced to escape from Russian detachments in the city itself. The supply of food from the villages has stopped, and two of our vehicles, with 65 loaded trucks and 150 horses, have been repulsed from us. The frost is increasing every day. Russian generals dressed their soldiers in sheepskin coats, although they are used to the cold, and our troops are almost naked. They occupy houses to keep warm, and not a single almost night passes without a fire. I was forced to put all the supplies in strong stone houses in order to at least save them" [19, p.116-117].

Such measures were more than timely and subsequent events will confirm this, an indicator of which will be the description of those unfortunate who returned with the emperor: "Our soldiers who arrived from Moscow are wrapped up in men's and women's fur coats, others in salops or in wool and silk fabrics, their heads and legs are wrapped in shawls and rags. The faces are black, sooty; the eyes are red, sunken, in a word, there is no semblance of soldiers in them, but more like people who have escaped from a madhouse. Exhausted from hunger and cold, they fall on the road and die, and none of their comrades will lend them a helping hand" [19, p.122-123].

Descriptions of that period are permeated with a painful impression of the catastrophe that has already begun: "As a precaution, so that hungry soldiers do not rush to rob shops, it was decided to leave the army behind the rampart outside the city, in the vicinity of the stables. Today two stable keepers informed me that the soldiers took 210 horses out last night and killed them for food. Whoever still has a piece of bread or some edible products left is lost: he must give them up if he does not want to be killed by his own comrades" [19, p.124].

Many participants of the campaign were able to provide for themselves at the expense of what they captured in Moscow, but there were also those who failed to acquire trophies, or they simply ran out, which only added spice to the relationship between soldiers and officers of various units.

"The German and Italian officers, who were on guard at the liquor stores, broke down the doors themselves and got drunk together with their other comrades; when drunk, they quarreled and it came to a fight. The soldiers took advantage of their quarrel and got drunk themselves; upon learning about what had happened, I immediately hurried with the soldiers to the liquor stores, the intoxicated officers and soldiers rushed at us with bayonets. And it was not a small effort to disarm them and drive them out of the store. Unfortunately, they punished themselves: drunk, they fell asleep near the store and froze at night, their dead bodies were found today" [19, p.132].

"Similar cases and other more horrific scenes are observed every day. Soldiers steal from each other without any shame and without fear of punishment; some devour in one day everything that is given to them for a whole week and die of overeating or are exposed to deadly diseases; others get drunk on wine that would be useful for them with moderate use. In a word, the army has forgotten all discipline, order and prudence, everyone lives as if today is the last day in his life. These brave and obedient warriors have hitherto been struck by such horror and madness that they voluntarily accelerate their lives" [19, p.133].

Those who could still keep their sanity in such a whirlwind of chaotic events as they saw were at the limit of human capabilities, one of the eyewitnesses in his notes left the following entry:

"I've been wearing one shirt for 19 days and haven't changed it for a very long time." Further, the author clarified that his things had not yet reached the city (apparently with a wagon train), so he had to be content with a single change of underwear"[1, l.45]

According to Professor William Sloan, the scenes that took place in Smolensk were extremely shameful. The city garrison first locked the gates in front of a crowd of ragamuffins with frostbitten members who demanded shelter and food. When it was possible to partially restore discipline in this crowd, the guard was let into the city [15, p.386].

From a military point of view, the situation was catastrophic, the only thing left for Napoleon was to retreat if the movement of his disparate forces could be interpreted in this way, nevertheless, military engineers mined the fortifications of the city, but only eight towers were blown up [4, p.299]: "For lack of horses, it was decided to burn most of the artillery shells and countless other military supplies; only provisions are taken with them. 5,000 sick and wounded remain here; they are not supposed to have provisions; with great difficulty they were asked to leave a few bags of flour to the unfortunate patients. Doctors and other hospital attendants, left to look after the sick, fled, fearing to be captured or killed" [19, p.128-135].

It was already the beginning of November, no one had any illusions left. One of his contemporaries describes the retreat as follows: "Napoleon goes with his infantry guard; there is nothing to think about cavalry: there is none. I do not know where he will get the cavalry necessary for advanced patrols. There is also almost no artillery; a small number of artillery horses are barely able to make a 6-day journey, and Vilna is 12 days away from here. All the sleighs have been collected, as many as there are in the city, and despite the fact that I am extremely ill and can barely stand on my feet, I am forced to ride. How many requests it cost me, not to mention money, just to shoe my horse! I am forced to leave all my luggage in Smolensk" [19, p.133-134].

In a letter dated November 3, 1812, the following can be found: "There is still a part of the third corps, which makes up the rearguard of the army. Today the frost is 25 degrees, enemy cannonballs are flying over our heads. There is a fire in different places in the city; attracted by the noise, I run through different streets; what a terrible sight our poor comrades present. The black sunken faces, the emaciated, tattered rags with which they are shrouded, give them the appearance of monsters, especially among the smoke and flames of a fire. But nothing strikes the heart so much as the sight of many soldiers' wives who, despite the prohibition, followed the army; the unfortunate, themselves half-stiff from the cold, lie on straw and try to warm their little children with their breath and tears, and immediately die of hunger and cold in their arms.

Yesterday, the Imperial Guard marched out of the city through the Vilna Gate in the direction of Krasnoye. The crowding was terrible, Napoleon himself was almost crushed. Many of the wounded escaped from the hospitals and dragged themselves as far as they could to the city gates, begging anyone who was only riding on a horse, or in a sleigh, or in a cart to take them with them; but no one listened to their cries; everyone was only thinking about their salvation. In a few hours I will leave the city with the general staff; the enemy is waiting for us on the road ahead" [19, p.35-39].

It all ended with the beginning of the spontaneous destruction by the inhabitants of small groups of French looters and teams of miners who destroyed the remaining few whole buildings, they were seized and literally torn apart, thrown into the fire of fires, drowned and so on…

A terrible picture of complete exhaustion of both physical and spiritual forces, which pushed to barbarism: "streets, squares, courtyards were littered with corpses of people and animals; in different places there were charging boxes, cannons, various kinds of weapons, shells, etc. Temples were looted and desecrated, wells were polluted with sewage and corpses. The cleaning and cleaning of the city lasted for more than three months, the corpses were burned, put in common pits and poured with lime. This ill-fated year is still known among the residents of the city under the name of "the year of ruin" [5, p.20-21].

Summing up the overall results , we can come to the following conclusions:

1. Numerous memoirs of contemporaries pay rather close attention to the problem of the retreat of the Great Army to the Smolensk region, giving fairly detailed descriptions of both the life itself and the possible prospects for the further course of the campaign.

2. A number of indirect evidences demonstrate attempts to turn the city into an operational base that allows preparing troops for the next campaign in the East, which is indirectly confirmed by descriptions of attempts to create local self-government bodies in the city.

3. Smolensk in numerous French memoirs devoted to the campaign of 1812 was presented as a symbol of the drama that broke out in Russia.

4. In the Russian epistolary heritage of the epoch, the corresponding descriptions contain a sense of transformation of mass consciousness, in the conditions of a new practice for humanity called "total war".

5. In general, summing up the general results of the consideration of Smolensk in the autumn-winter campaign of 1812, it can be argued that its role as a moral barrier in Napoleon's desire to continue hostilities and the importance of the city as a strategic point has been insufficiently studied until now and requires a very deep analysis


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