The Englishman Wilson, of whom I have spoken already, who had come to Wilna with Kutusow's army, says: "The Basilius monastery, transformed into a prison, offered a terrible sight - 7,500 corpses were piled up in the corridors, and corpses were also in other parts of the building, the broken windows and the holes in the walls were plugged with feet, legs, hands, heads, trunks, just as they would fit in the openings to keep out the cold air. The putrefying flesh spread a terrible stench."
(Carpon, a French Surgeon-Major who was with the army in Wilna, has described the events in a paper "Les Morts de Wilna". I cannot quote from his writings because he gives impossible statistics and contradicts himself in his narrations.)
Yelin speaks of a hospital in which all the inmates had been murdered by the Cossacks. He himself was in a Wuerttembergian hospital and describes his experience: "Terrible was the moment when the door was burst open. The monsters came in and distributed themselves all over the house. We gave them all we had and implored them on our knees to have pity, but all in vain. 'Schelma Franzuski,' they answered, at the same time they beat us with their kantchous, kicked us unmercifully with their feet, and as new Cossacks came in all the time, we were finally deprived of all our clothing and beaten like dogs. Even the bandages of the poor wounded were torn off in search of hidden money or valuables. Lieutenant Kuhn (a piece of his cranium had been torn away at Borodino) was searched; he fell down like dead and it took a long time and much pain to bring him to life again."
Lieutenant von Soden was beaten with hellish cruelty on his sore feet and gangraenous toes so that they bled. When nothing more could be found on the sick and wounded they were left lying on the stone floor.
There was no idea of medicine.
The cold in the rooms was so great that hands and feet of many were frozen.
Sometimes prisoners shaking with frost would sneak out at night to find a little wood. Some Westphalians who had tried this were beaten to death.
Some of the prisoners were literally eaten up by lice.
Those who did not die of their wounds, of filth, and of misery, were carried away by petechial typhus which had developed into a violent epidemic in Wilna, and several thousand of the citizens, among them many Jews, succumbed to the ravages of this disease.
One witness writes: "Little ceremony was observed in disposing of the dead; every morning I heard how those who had died during the night were thrown down the stairs or over the balcony into the yard, and by counting these sinister sounds of falling bodies we knew how many had died during the night."
The brutality of the guards was beyond description. First Lieutenant von Grolman, one of the most highly educated officers of the Badensian contingent, was thrown down the stairway because this (seriously wounded) officer had disturbed the inspector during the latter's leisure hour.
Beating with the kantchou was nothing unusual.
A Weimaranian musician, Theuss, has described some guileful tortures practiced on the prisoners, which are so revolting that I dare not write them. They are given in Holzhausen's book.
In their despair the prisoners, especially the officers among them, sent petitions to Duke Alexander of Wuerttemberg, to the Tzar, to the Grand Duke Constantine, and to the Ladies of the Russian Court. The Tzar and his brother Constantine came and visited the hospitals. They were struck by what they saw, and ordered relief. Officers were permitted to walk about the city, and many obtained quarters in private houses. Those who could not yet leave the gloomy wards of the hospitals were better cared for.
It is touching to read Yelin's narration how the emaciated arms of those in the hospitals were stretched out when their comrades, returning from a promenade in the city, brought them a few apples.
As they were no longer guarded as closely as before, many succeeded in escaping. Captain Roeder was one of them; Yelin was offered aid to flee, but he remained because he had given his word of honor to remain.
But most of these favors came too late, only one tenth were left that could be saved, the others had succumbed to their sufferings or died from typhus.
A pestilential odor filled Wilna. Heaps of cadavers were burnt and when this was found to be too expensive, thrown into the Wilia. Few of the higher officers were laid at rest in the cemetery, among them General von Roeder who as long as he was able had tried everything in his power to ameliorate the condition of his soldiers. Holzhausen brings the facsimile of a letter of his, dated Wilna, December 30th., to the King of Wuerttemberg which proves his care for his soldiers. He died on January 6th., 1813.