Captaine Coignet's Escape (3)


1812 Invasion of Russia
French Command Structure
Russian Command Structure

On the Road with the Grande Armee
Map of the first stages of the Great Retreat

Map of the last stages of the Great Retreat
Jean-Roch Coignet's Description of the Retreat
Coignet's Brush With Cossacks

We came to a beautiful plateau. The Emperor reviewed the prisoners. The snow fell so heavily that every one was covered with it; we could not see one another. But behind us a frightful scene was being enacted.

After we had left the bridge the Russians directed the fire of their batteries upon the crowd, which surrounded the bridges.

From our position we could see these unfortunate creatures rush for the bridges; then the wagons overturned and all were swallowed up under the ice. No one could give any idea of this sight.

The bridges were burned the next day at half-past eight o'clock.

The cold grew more and more intense; the horses in the bivouacs died of hunger and cold. Every day some were left where we had passed the night.

The roads were like glass. The horses fell down, and could not get up. Our worn-out soldiers no longer had strength to their arms. The barrels of their muskets were so cold that they stuck to their hands. It was 28 degrees below zero. But the guard gave up their sacks and muskets only with their lives.

In order to save our lives, we had to eat the horses that fell down on the ice. The soldiers opened the skin with their knives and took out the entrails, which they roasted on the coals - if they had time to make a fire - and, if not, they ate them raw. They devoured the horses before they died. I also ate this food as long as the horses lasted.

As far Wilna we travelled by short stages with the Emperor. His whole staff marched along the sides of the road.

The men of the demoralized army marched along like prisoners, without arms or knapsacks. There was no longer any human feeling for one another. Each man looked out for himself.

Every sentiment of humanity extinguished. No one would have reached out his to his father; and that can be easily understood. For who stooped down to help his fellow would not be to rise again.

We had to march fight on, making faces prevent our noses and ears from freezing. The men became insensible to every human feeling. No one murmured against our misfortunes. The men fell frozen stiff all along the road.

If, by chance, any of them came upon a bivouac of other unfortunate creatures who thawing themselves, the new-comers pitilessly pushed them aside, and took possession of their fire. The poor creatures would then lie down to die upon the snow.

One must have seen these horrors in order to believe them!

I can certify that on the retreat from Moscow we marched more than 40 leagues without knapsacks or guns. But it was at Wilna that we suffered most. The weather, so severe that the men could no longer endure it; even the ravens froze.

During this fearful cold, I was sent to the general who had charge of the trophies taken at Moscow, with an order to have them thrown into a lake to the right of our road.

At the same time the treasure was abandoned to the stragglers. The wretches seized upon it, and burst open the casks. Three-fourths of them were frozen to death beside their plunder. Their burdens were so heavy that they fell.

I rejoined my post after the greatest possible difficulty, and that I did so was owing to my unshod horse, which did not slide.

I am sure that a man reduced to the same condition of weakness could not have been able to carry 500 francs. I had 700 francs of my savings in my portmanteau. My horse was so weak that he began to go to sleep. I perceived this, and, taking my bag, I went to see my old friends the grousers in their bivouac, and proposed to them to rid me of my 700 francs.

"Give me 20 francs in gold, and I will give you 25 francs." They all did so with pleasure, and I was unburdened, for I would have left them on the spot. All my fortune now consisted of 83 napoleons and this saved my life.

Napoleon Bonaparte
Career Portraits
Quotes Family
Loves Letters
Plots Murdered?
His will Places
Era of Napoleon
Powers Opponents
Coalitions Allies
People Timelines
Key sites Shrapnel
Campaigns Battles
Armies Generals
Marshals Winners
Glossary Medical
Weapons 1812 War
Uniforms Battlefields
War at Sea
Naval War Heroes
Artworks Signals
Nelson Trafalgar
Key Maps Peninsula
Animated 1796/1800
1809 Russia
French Revolution
Revolution Guillotine
Posters People
Art, Film, Games
Education Goya
Sharpe Hornblower
Books Movies
DVDs Music
Wargames Images
Cartoons Caricatures
About Us Sources
Awards Sitemap
Links Militaria
Miniatures Reenactors
Forum Quizzes
Home Waterloo Diorama
Copyright Richard Moore 1999-2017 | Privacy Policy | Contact Us