Thursday, July 30, 2009

Liveblogging Napoleon's Russian Invasion:
A Soldier Is Left to Die

July of 1812 for Napoleon meant two great missed opportunities: at Vilna and and Vitebsk, from both of which the Russians slipped away without a fight. Not everyone was so lucky. Captain Franz Roeder, an officer with the First Battalion of Hessian Lifeguards, records a chilling encounter on he the march:
[W]e came upon one of he harrowing sights of the war. About half way we found a soldier of the Young Guard lying by the road in a little copse. For three days he had been left there ill or exhausted without food, and now he was like to die from hunger or thirst. Two regiments of the Young Guard had already passed before us, but the most that a sympathiser had been able to do had been to give him a drop from his water flask, for the Colonel, preferring his chaise and horses to the life of a man, had forbidden them to take him up and carry him with them. If this had been done and they could have given him some soup at the bivouac he might have been saved. We would willingly have helped him, but we only had bread, which he could no longer swallow. If only I had known at the time I might have given him a moment's assistance with some goat's milk, which I had by me in a schnapps flask, but I did not hear what had occurred until too late. If they had had a stretcher our soldiers might perhaps have carried him, but they shuddered to think that no such provision had been made and that he might not otherwise be saved. In his fate they saw their own. And does it never occur to these ego-drunk officers that their manifest indifference to this scene, of which more will follow, has a most demoralizing effect upon their soldiers, especially those who have not yet become hardened to such sights by many campaigns? They will be disposed to desert whenever possible, and if they cannot manage to escape, their already failing physical stamina will collapse form having no moral counterbalance to sustain it.
--Quoted in Helen Roeder, The Ordeal of Captain Roeder 102 (London 1960)

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