About a mile and a half from Wiasma the enemy appeared to the left of the road, and his fire happened to strike the midst of the tail of the army, composed of disbanded soldiers without arms, with wounded and sick among them, and women and children. Every artillery discharge of the Russians caused frightful cries and a frightful commotion in the helpless mass.
And the rear guard, in trying to make them advance, ill-treated them, the soldiers who had clung to the flag assumed the right to despise those who, either voluntarily or under compulsion, had abandoned it.
Of the old generals of Davout some had been killed, Friant was so severely wounded that he could not be about, Compans had been wounded in the arm, Moraud in the head, but these two, the former with one arm in a sling, the other with a bandaged head, were on horseback, surrounding the marshal commanding the first corps which had been reduced to 15 thousand from 20 thousand at Moshaisk, from 28 thousand in Moscow, and from 72 thousand crossing the Niemen. The remaining 15 thousand were all old warriors whose iron constitution had triumphed.
The battle of Wiasma took place on the 2d. of November. The Russians under Miloradovitch had 100 cannon, whereas the French under Ney, Davout, and the wounded generals named above, had only 40. This day cost the French 1,500 to 1,800 men in killed and wounded, and, as mentioned, these were of the oldest and best; the loss of the Russians was twice that number, but their wounded were not lost, while it was impossible to save a single one of the French, for the latter had no attendance at all; the cold being very severe it killed them, and those who did not perish by the frost were put to death by the cruel, ferocious Russian peasants.
Entering Wiasma at night, nothing in the way of provisions was found; the guard and the corps which had been there before the battle had devoured everything. No provisions were left of those taken along from Moscow. The army passed a sombre and bitter cold night in a forest; great fires were lighted, horse meat was roasted, and the soldiers of Prince Eugene and of Marshal Davout, especially the latter who had been on their feet for three days, slept profoundly around great camp-fires. During two weeks they had been on duty to cover the retreat and during this time had lost more than one half of their number.
Napoleon arrived at Dorogobouge on November 5th., the Prince Eugene on the 6th., the other corps on the 7th. and 8th.
Until then the frost had been severe but not yet fatal. All of a sudden, on the 9th., the weather changed, and there was a terrible snow-storm.
On their way to Moscow the regiments had traversed Poland during a suffocating heat and had left their warm clothing in the magazines.
Some soldiers had taken furs with them from Moscow, but had sold them to their officers.
Well nourished, they could have stood the frost, but living on a little flour diluted with water, on horse meat roasted at the camp fire, sleeping on the ground without shelter, they suffered frightfully. We shall later on speak more in detail of the miserable clothing.
The first snow which had been falling after they had left Dorogobouge had seriously increased the general misery. Except among the soldiers of the rear guard which had been commanded with inflexible firmness by Davout, and which was now led by Ney, the sense of duty began to be lost by almost all soldiers.
As we have learned, all the wounded had to be left to their fate, and soldiers who had been charged to escort Russian prisoners relieved themselves of their charge by shooting these prisoners dead.
The horses had not been shod in Russian fashion for traveling on the ice. The army had come during the summer without any idea of returning during the winter; the horses slipped on the ice, those of the artillery were too feeble to draw cannon even of small calibre, they were beaten unmercifully until they perished; not only cannons and ammunition had to be left, but the number of vehicles carrying necessities of life diminished from day to day. The soldiers lived on the fallen horses; when night came the dead animals were cut to pieces by means of the sabre, huge portions were roasted at immense fires, the men devoured them and went to sleep around the fires. If the Cossacks did not disturb their dearly bought sleep the men would awake; some half burnt, others finding themselves lying in the mud which had formed around them, and many would not rise any more. General von Kerner, of the Wuerttembergian troops had slept in a barn during the night from November 7th. to November 8th. Coming out at daybreak he saw his men in the plain as they had lain down around a fire the evening before, frozen and dead. The survivors would depart, hardly glancing at the unfortunates who had died or were dying, and for whom they could do nothing.
The snow would soon cover them, and small eminences marked the places where these brave soldiers had been sacrificed for a foolish enterprise.