While those who could afford it enjoyed all the good things of which they had been deprived so long, the poor soldiers in the streets were in great misery. The doors being shut, they entered the houses by force and illtreated the inhabitants who on the next day took a bitter revenge.
Even the rich magazines had remained closed, tedious formalities had to be observed, the carrying out of which was an impossibility since the whole army was disbanded. No regiment had kept together, no detachment could be selected to present vouchers for receiving rations.
Lieutenant Jacobs gives an illustration of the condition: "Orders had been given to receive rations for four days. Colonel von Egloffstein in the evening of the 9th sent Lieutenant Jacobs with 100 men to the bread magazine to secure as much as possible, and as this magazine was at some distance, and as Cossacks had already entered the city, he ordered 25 armed men to accompany the hundred, who, naturally enough, were not armed. The commissary of the magazine refused to hand out bread without a written order of the commissaire-ordonateur; the lieutenant therefore notified him that he would take by force what he needed for his regiment. And with his 25 carabiniers he had to fight for the bread."
Finally the pressing need led to violence. During the night of the 10th. the desperate soldiers, aided by inhabitants, broke into the magazines, at first into those containing clothing, then they opened the provision stores, throwing flour bags and loaves of bread into the street where the masses fought for these missiles. And when the liquor depots were broken into, the crowd forced its way in with howls. They broke the barrels, and wild orgies took place until the building took fire and many of the revelers became the victims of the flames.
While this pillaging went on the market place of Wilna was the scene of events not less frightful. A detachment of Loison's division, obedient to their duty, had congregated there, stacked arms and, in order to warm themselves to the best of their ability - the temperature was 30 deg. below zero R. (37 deg. below zero F.) - and to thaw the frozen bread, had lighted a fire. I cannot describe the fight among these soldiers for single pieces of bread; they were too horrid.
This night ended, and in the morning the cannon was heard again.
An early attack had been expected, and perspicacious officers had taken advantage of the few hours of rest to urge their men to prepare for the last march to the near frontier. Count Hochberg implored his officers to follow this advice, but the fatigues and sickness they had undergone, their frozen limbs and the threat of greater misery, made most of them refuse to heed his entreaties. Thus Hochberg lost 74 of his best and most useful officers who remained in Wilna and died there. Similar attempts were made in other quarters. Many of those addressed laughed sneeringly. This sneering I shall never forget, says Lieutenant von Hailbronner, who escaped while the enemy was entering. Death on the road to Kowno was easier, after all, than dying slowly in the hospitals of Wilna.
On the 10th., in the morning, the Russians entered, and the Cossacks ran their lances through every one in their way.
There were fights in the streets, the troops of the division Loison fought the Russians.
Old Sergeant Picart, of the old guard, on hearing the drum, struck his comrade Bourgogne, the writer of some memoirs of the campaign, on the shoulder, saying: "Forward, comrade, we are of the old guard, we must be the first under arms." And Bourgogne went along, although sick and wounded.
German and French bravery vied with each other on the 10th. of December. Ney and Loison along with Wrede. The latter, on the day previous, had come to the house of the marshal to offer him a small escort of cavalry if he would leave Wilna. Ney pointing to the mass of soldiers who had to be protected, answered: "All the Cossacks in the world shall not bring me out of this city to-night."
Ney and Wrede left with their troops.
Woe to those who had remained, their number was about 10 thousand, besides 5 thousand sick in the hospitals.
According to Roeder, 500 were murdered in the streets on this day, partly by Cossacks, partly by Jews, the latter revenging themselves for ill treatment.
All reports, and they are numerous, of Germans, French and also Russians, speak of the cruelty of the Jews of Wilna. We must not forget, however, the provocations under which they had to suffer, nor how they, in supplying soldiers with eatables and clothing, saved many who otherwise would have perished.
Von Lossberg says that Christian people of Wilna have also taken part in the massacre, and only the Poles did not participate.
The Cossacks began their bloody work early in the morning.
Awful cries of the tortured were heard in the Wuerttembergian hospital, telling the sick who were lying there what they themselves had to expect from the entering enemies.
Those who had remained in Smolensk and Moscow after the armed soldiers had departed were at once massacred. In Wilna likewise many were murdered, but the greater number - many thousands - (other circumstances did not permit to do away with all these prisoners in the same way) perished after days or weeks of sickness and privations of all kind.
Wilna's convents could tell of it if their walls could speak.
Dr. Geissler narrates that the prisoners in the Basilius monastery into which soldiers of all nationalities had been driven, during 13 days received only a little hardtack, but neither wood nor a drop of water; they had to quench their thirst with the snow which covered the corpses in the yard.