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 them.
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 Beaupre 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 such.
And all this has to be considered in a medical history of the campaign Anno 1812.
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.