While the prisoners of Wilna were suffering these nameless cruelties, the unfortunate army marched to reach the border of Russia at Kowno, the same Kowno where the Grand Army six months before had been seen in all its military splendor, crossing the Niemen.

They had now to march 75 miles, a three days' march to arrive there.

The conditions were about the same as those on the march from the Beresina to Wilna. Still the same misery, frost, and hunger, scenes of murder, fire. The description of the details would in general be a repetition, with little variation.

The following is an account of the last days of the retreat taken from a letter of Berthier to the Emperor.

When the army entered Wilna on December 8th., almost all the men were chilled by cold, and despite the commands of Murat and Berthier, despite the fact that the Russians were at the gates, both officers and soldiers kept to their quarters and refused to march.

However, on the 10th, the march upon Kowno was begun. But the extreme cold and the excess of snow completed the rout of the army. The final disbanding occurred on the 10th, and 11th., only a struggling column remained, extending along the road, strewn with corpses, setting out at daybreak to halt at night in utter confusion. In fact, there was no army left. How could it have subsisted with 25 degrees of cold? The onslaught, alas, was not of the foe, but of the harshest and severest of seasons fraught with crippling effect and untold suffering.

Berthier, as well as Murat, would have wished to remain in Kowno through the 12th., but the disorder was extreme. Houses were pillaged and sacked, half the town was burned down, the Niemen was being crossed at all points, and it was impossible to stem the tide of fugitives. An escort was barely available for the protection of the King of Naples, the generals, and the Imperial eagles. And all amidst the cold, the intense cold, stupefying and benumbing!

Four fifths of the army - or what bore the name of such, though reduced to a mere conglomeration and bereft of fighting men - had frozen limbs; and when Koenigsberg was reached, in a state of complete disorganisation, the surgeons were constantly employed in amputating fingers and toes.

Dr. W. Zelle, a German military surgeon, in his book "1812" describes the last days of the army. Kowno was occupied by a considerable force of artillery, with two German battalions, and it contained also very large supplies, a great deal of ammunition, provisions, clothing, and arms of various kinds. About an hour's march from Wilna the retreating masses encountered the hill and defile of Ponary and it was at this point where the imperial treasure, so far conscientiously guarded by German troops from Baden and Wuerttemberg, was lost. When the leaders of the treasure became convinced of the impossibility to save it, the jaded horses not being able after 15 hours' effort to climb the ice covered hill, they had the wagons opened, the money chests broken, and the coin surrendered to the soldiers.

The sight of the gold brought new life even to the half frozen ones; they threw away their arms and were so greedy in loading themselves down with the mammon that many of them did not notice the approaching Cossacks until it was too late. Friend and foe, Frenchmen and Russians pillaged the wagons. Honor, money, and what little had remained of discipline, all was lost at this point.

However, side by side with these outrages, noble deeds could also be recorded. Numerous wagons with wounded officers had to be abandoned, the horses being too weak to take another step, and many of the soldiers disregarded everything to save these unfortunates, carrying them away on their shoulders. An adjutant of the emperor, Count Turenne, distributed the private treasure of the emperor among the soldiers of the Old Guard, and not one of these faithful men kept any of the money for himself. All was honestly returned later on, and more than 6 millions of francs reached Danzig safely.

The retreat during these scenes and the following days, when the terrible cold caused more victims from hour to hour, was still covered by Ney whose iron constitution defied all hardships. From five until ten at night he personally checked the advance of the enemy, during the night he marched, driving all stragglers before him. From seven in the morning until ten the rear guard rested, after which time they continued the daily fight.

His Bavarians numbered 260 on December 11th., 150 on the 17th. and on the 13th. the last 20 were taken prisoners. The corps had disappeared. The remainder of Loison's division and the garrison of Wilna diminished in the same manner until, finally, the rear guard consisted of only 60 men.

What was left of the army reached Kowno on the 12th, after a long, tedious march, dying of cold and hunger. In Kowno there was an abundance of clothes, flour, and spirits. But the unrestrained soldiers broke the barrels, so that the spilled liquor formed a lake in the market place. The soldiers threw themselves down and by the hundreds drank until they were intoxicated. More than 1200 drunken men reeled through the streets, dropped drowsily upon the icy stones or into the snow, their sleep soon passing into death. Of the entire corps of Eugene there remained only eight or ten officers with the prince. Only one day more (the 13th.) was the powerful Ney able, with the two German battalions of the garrison, to check the Cossacks, vigorously supported by the indefatigable generals, Gerard and Wrede. Not until the 14th., at 9 o'clock at night, did he begin to retreat, with the last of the men, after having destroyed the bridges over the Wilia and the Niemen. Always fighting, receding but not fleeing, his person formed the rear guard of this Grand Army which five months previous crossed the river at this very point, now, on the 14th, consisting of only 500 foot guards, 600 horse guards, and nine cannon.

It is nobody but Ney who still represents the Grand Army, who fires the last shot before he, the last Frenchman, crosses the bridge over the Niemen, which is blown up behind him. If we look upon the knightly conduct of Ney during the entire campaign we cannot but think how much greater he was than the heroes of Homer.

This man has demonstrated to the world upon this most terrible of all retreats that even fate is not able to subdue an imperturbable courage, that even the greatest adversity redounds to the glory of a hero.

More than a thousand times did Ney earn in Russia the epithet, "the bravest of the brave," and the legend which French tradition has woven around his person is quite justified. No mortal has ever performed such deeds of indomitable moral courage; all other heroes and exploits vanish in comparison!

Here, at the Niemen, the pursuit by the Russians came to an end for the time being. They, too, had suffered enormously.

Not less than 18 thousand Russians were sick in Wilna; Kutusoff's army was reduced to 35 thousand men, that of Wittgenstein from 50 thousand to 15 thousand. The entire Russian army, including the garrison of Riga, numbered not more than 100 thousand. The winter, this terrible ally of the Russians, exacted a high price for the assistance it had rendered them; of 10 thousand men who left the interior, well provided with all necessities, only 1700 reached Wilna; the troops of cavalry did not number more than 20 men.

In all the literature which I have examined I did not find a better description of the life and the struggle of the soldiers on the retreat than that given by General Heinrich von Brandt of his march from Zembin to Wilna. It is a vivid picture of many details from which we derive a full understanding of the great misery on the retreat in general.

I shall give an extensive extract in his own words:

"We arrived late at Zembin, where we found many bivouac fires. It was very cold. Here and there around the fires were lying dead soldiers.

"After a short rest, which had given us some new strength, we continued the march. If the stragglers arrive, we said to ourselves, we shall be lost; therefore, let us hurry and keep ahead of them. Our little column kept well together, but at every halt some men were missing. Toward daybreak the cold became more severe. While it was dark yet, we met a file of gunpowder carts carrying wounded; from a number of these vehicles we heard heart-rending clamors of some of the wounded asking us to give them death.

"At every moment we encountered dead or dying comrades, officers and soldiers, who were sitting on the road, exhausted from fatigue, awaiting their end. The sun rose blood-red; the cold was frightful. We stopped near a village where bivouac fires were burning. Around these fires were grouped living and dead soldiers. We lodged ourselves as well as we could and took from those who had retired from the scene of life - apparently during their sleep - anything that could be of service to us. I for my part helped myself to a pot in which I melted snow to make a soup from some bread crusts which I had in my pocket. We all relished this soup.

"After an hour's rest we resumed our march and about 30 hours after our departure we reached Plechtchenissi. During this time we had made 25 miles. At Plechtchenissi we found, at a kind of farm, sick, wounded and dead, all lying pell-mell. There was no room for us in the house; we were obliged to camp outside, but great fires compensated us for the want of shelter.

"We decided to rest during part of the night. While some of the soldiers roasted slices of horse meat and others prepared oatmeal cakes from oats which they had found in the village, we tried to sleep. But the frightful scenes through which we had passed kept us excited, and sleep would not come.

"Toward 1 o'clock in the morning we left for Molodetchno. The cold was frightful. Our way was marked by the light of the bivouac fires which were seen at intervals and by cadavers of men and horses lying everywhere, and as the moon and the stars were out we could see them well. Our column became smaller all the while, officers and men disappeared without our noticing their departure, without our knowing where they had fallen behind; and the cold increased constantly. When we stopped at some bivouac fire it seemed to us as if we were among the dead; nobody stirred, only occasionally would one or the other of those sitting around raise his head, look upon us with glassy eyes, rest again, probably never to rise again. What made the march during that night especially disagreeable was the icy wind whipping our faces. Toward 8 o'clock in the morning we perceived a church tower. That is Molodetchno, we all cried with one voice. But to our disappointment we learned on our arrival that it was only Iliya, and that we were only half-way to Molodetchno.

"Iliya was not completely deserted by the inhabitants, but the troops that had passed through it before us had left almost nothing eatable in the place. We found abode in some houses and for a while were protected from the cold which was by no means abating. In the farm of which we took possession we found a warm room and a good litter, which we owed to our predecessors.

"It was strange that none of us could sleep; we all were in a state of feverish excitement, and I attribute this to an indistinct fear; once asleep we might perhaps not awake again, as we had seen it happen a thousand times.

"The longer we remained at Iliya the more comfortable we felt, and we decided to stay there all day and wait for news. Soup of buckwheat, a large pot of boiled corn, some slices of roast horse meat, although all without salt, formed a meal which we thought delicious."

Von Brandt describes how they took off their garments, or their wrappings which served as garments, to clean and repair them; how some of his men found leather with which they enveloped their feet. The day and the night passed, and all had some sleep. But they had to leave.

"Some of the men refused to go; one of them when urged to come along said: 'Captain, let me die here; we all are to perish, a few days sooner or later is of no consequence.' He was wounded, but not seriously, a bullet had passed through his arm; it was a kind of apathy which had come over him, and he could not be persuaded. He remained and probably died.

"We left; the cold was almost unbearable. Along the road we found bivouacs, at which one detachment relieved the other; the succeeding surpassing the preceding one in misery and distress. Everywhere, on the road and in the bivouacs, the dead were lying, most of them stripped of their clothes.

"It was imperative to keep moving, for remaining too long at the bivouac fires meant death, and dangerous was it also to remain behind, separated from the troop. (The danger of being alone under such circumstances as existed here has been pointed out by Beaupre.)

"We marched to Molodetchno where the great road commences and where we expected some amelioration, and, indeed, we found it. The everlasting cold was now the principal cause of our sufferings.

"In the village there was some kind of order; we saw many soldiers bearing arms and of a general good appearance. The houses were not all deserted, neither were they as overcrowded as in other places through which we had passed. We established ourselves in some of them situated on the road to Smorgoni, and we had reason to be satisfied with our choice. We bought bread at an enormous price, made soup of it which tasted very good to us, and we had plenty for all of us.

"At Molodetchno men of our division joined us and brought us the news of the crossing of the Beresina."

von Brandt gives the description of the events at the Beresina and tells of the historical significance of Molodetchno as the place where Napoleon sojourned 18 hours and from where he dated the 29th. bulletin.

"We left the village on the following morning at an early hour and continued our march on the road to Smorgoni.

"A description of this march," writes von Brandt, "would only be a repetition of what had been said of scenes of preceding days. We were overtaken by a snowstorm the violence of which surpassed all imagination, fortunately this violence lasted only some hours, but on account of it our little column became dispersed.

"One bivouac left an impression of horror to last for all my lifetime. In a village crowded with soldiers we came to a fire which was burning quite lively, around it were lying some dead. We were tired; it was late, and we decided to rest there. We removed the corpses to make room for the living and arranged ourselves the best way we could. A fence against which the snow had drifted protected us from the north wind. Many who passed by envied us this good place. Some stopped for a while, others tried to establish themselves near us. Gradually the fatigue brought sleep to some of us; the stronger ones brought wood to keep up the fire. But it snowed constantly; after one had warmed one side of the body an effort was made to warm the other; after one foot had been warmed the other was brought near the flame; a complete rest was impossible. At daybreak we prepared to depart. Thirteen men of our troop, all wounded, did not answer the roll call. My heart pained.

"We had to pass in front of the fence which had given us protection against the wind during the night. Imagine our surprise when we saw that what we had taken for a fence was a pile of corpses which our predecessors had heaped one upon the other. These dead were men of all countries, Frenchmen, Swiss, Italians, Poles, Germans, as we could distinguish by their uniforms. Most of them had their arms extended as if they had been stretching themselves. 'Look, Captain,' said one of the soldiers, 'they stretch their hands out to us; ah, no fear, we soon shall follow you.'

"We were soon to have another horrid sight. In a village, many houses of which had been burnt, there were the ghastly remains of burnt corpses, and in one building, especially, there was a large number of such infesting the air with their stench. A repetition of scenes I had seen at Saragossa and at Smolensk."

"At sunset we arrived at Smorgoni, and here we enjoyed great comfort. It was the first place where we could obtain something for money. From an old Jewess we bought bread, rice, and also a little coffee, all at reasonable prices. It was the first cup of coffee I had had for months, and it invigorated me very much."

"We were young, and our good humor had soon been restored to us; it made us forget, for the time being at least, how much we had suffered, and at this moment we did not think of the suffering yet in store for us."

"We left for Ochmiana; our march was tedious. Again we encountered a great many dead strewn on the road; many of them had died from cold; some still had their arms, young men, well dressed, their cloaks, shoes, and socks, however, were taken from them. Half way to Ochmiana we took a rest at a bivouac which had been evacuated quite recently."

"The night we passed here was fearful. I had an inflamed foot, and felt a burning pain under the arms which caused me great difficulty in the use of my crutches. Fortunately I found a place on which a fire had been burning, and I was not obliged to sleep on the snow. The soldiers kept up a fire all night, and I had a good and invigorating sleep, in consequence of which I could take up the march on the following day, with new courage and zeal."

"Toward 11 o'clock we arrived, together with a mass of fugitives, at Ochmiana. Before entering the city we encountered a convoy of provisions, escorted by a young Mecklenburg officer, Lieutenant Rudloff, who some years later served as a Prussian general. He made an attempt to defend his sleighs, but in vain. The crowd surrounded him and his convoy and pushed in such a manner that neither he nor his men were able to stir. The sleighs, carrying excellent biscuits, were pillaged. I myself gathered some in the snow, and I can well say that they saved my life until we reached Wilna."

"Arrived at Ochmiana we at once continued our march upon Miednicki."

"The city was occupied by a crowd of disbanded soldiers - marauders who had established themselves everywhere. It was only with difficulty that we found some sort of lodging in a kind of pavilion which was icy and had no chimneys. However, we managed to heat it and arranged litter for 20 men. With bread and biscuit brought from Ochmiana we prepared a good meal."

"When we crossed the Goina we numbered 50; this number had increased so that we were at one time 70, but now our number had decreased to 29."

"We left at an early hour on the next morning. It was frightfully cold. Half way to Miednicki we had to stop at a bivouac. On the road we saw many cadavers." Von Brandt here describes the fatal effects of cold and his description, though less complete, corresponds with the descriptions given by Beaupre, von Scherer, and others. Especially revolting, he says, was the sight of the toes of the cadavers; often there were no more soft parts. The soldiers, first of all, took the shoes from their dead comrades, next the cloaks; they would wear two or three or cut one to cover their feet and their head with the pieces.

The last part of the march to Miedniki was most painful for von Brandt, on account of the inflammation of his left foot.

He describes his stay at that place in which there were many stragglers. He bivouaked in a garden; they had straw enough and a good fire, also biscuits from Ochmiana, and they suffered only from the cold, 30 deg. below zero R. (36 deg. below zero Fahrenheit.) On this occasion von Brandt speaks of the pains, the sufferings, the condition of his comrades. One of them, Zelinski, had not uttered a word since their departure from Smorgoni; he had no tobacco, and this troubled him more than physical pain; another one, Karpisz, crushed by sorrow and sufferings, was in a delirious state; in the same condition were some of the wounded. But after all, in the midst of their sad reflections, some of them fell asleep. Those who were well enough took up reliefs on night watch. Every one of the group had to bear some special great misery, and upon the whole their trials were beyond endurance: In the open air at 30 deg. R. below zero, without sufficient clothing, without provisions, full of vermin, exposed at any moment to the attacks of the enemy, surrounded by a rapacious rabble, deprived of aid, wounded, they were hardly in a condition to drag themselves along.

"Still an 8 hours' march to Wilna," I said to Zelinski; "Will we reach there?" He shook his head in doubt.

One of the men, Wasilenka, a sergeant, the most courageous, the firmest of the little column, of a robust constitution, had found at Ochmiana some brandy and some potatoes. He said if one had not lost his head entirely, one could have many things, but nothing can be done with the French any more; they are not the Frenchmen of former times, a Cossack's casque upsets them; it is a shame! And he told the great news of Napoleon's departure from the army of which the others of von Brandt's column had yet not been informed. Interesting as was the conversation on this event, I have to omit it.

The extreme cold did not allow much sleep; long before daylight they were on their feet. It was a morning of desolation, as always.

von Brandt now describes the characteristic phenomena of the landscape; the words are almost identical with the description Beaupre has given of the Russian landscape in the winter of 1812.

"I could not march, the pain under my shoulders was very great. I felt as if all at this region of my body would tear off. But I marched all the same. Many were already on the road, all in haste to reach the supposed end of their sufferings. They seemed to be in a race, and the cold, the incredible cold, drove them also to march quickly. On this day there perished more men than usual, and we passed these unfortunates without a sign of pity, as if all human feeling had been extinguished in the souls of us, the surviving. We marched in silence, hardly any one uttered a word; if, however, some one spoke, it was to say how is it that I am not in your place; besides this nothing was heard but the sighing and the groans of the dying.

"It was perhaps 9 o'clock when we had covered half of the way and took a short rest, after which we resumed our march and arrived before Wilna toward 3 o'clock, having marched ten hours, exhausted beyond description. The cold was intolerable; as I learned afterward it had reached 29 deg. below zero Reaumur (36 deg. below zero Fahrenheit.) But imagine our surprise when armed guards forbade us to enter the city. The order had been given to admit only regular troops. The commanders had thought of the excesses of Smolensk and Orscha and here at least they intended to save the magazines from pillage. Our little column remained at the gate for a while; we saw that whoever risked to mix with the crowd could not extricate himself again and could neither advance nor return. It came near sunset, the cold by no means abated but, on the contrary, augmented. Every minute the crowd increased in number, the dying and dead mixed up with the living. We decided to go around the city, to try to enter at some other part; after half an hour's march we succeeded and found ourselves in the streets. They were full of baggage, soldiers, and inhabitants. But where to turn? Where to seek aid? By good luck we remembered that our officers passing Wilna on their way during the spring had been well received by Mr. Malczewski, a friend of our colonel. Nothing more natural than to go to him and ask for asylum. But imagine our joy, our delight, when at our arrival at the house we found our colonel himself, the quartermaster and many officers known by us, who all were the guests of Mr. Malczewski. Even Lieutenant Gordon who commanded our depot at Thorn was there; he had come after he had had the news of the battle of Borodino.

"My faithful servant Maciejowski and the brave Wasilenka carried me up the stairs and placed me in bed. I was half dead, hardly master of my senses. Gordon gave me a shirt, my servant took charge of my garments to free them from vermin, and after I had had some cups of hot beer with ginger in it and was under a warm blanket, I recovered strength enough to understand what I was told and to do what I was asked to do."

"A Jewish physician examined and dressed my wounds. He found my shoulders very much inflamed and prescribed an ointment which had an excellent effect. I fell into a profound sleep which was interrupted by the most bizarre imaginary scenes; there was not one of the hideous episodes of the last fortnight which did not pass in some form or another before my mind."

"Washed, cleaned, passably invigorated, refreshed especially by some cups of hot beer, I was able to rise on the following morning and to assist at the council which the colonel had called together."

Von Brandt now describes how the mass of fugitives came and pillaged the magazines. The colonel saved a great many, supplied them with shoes, cloaks, caps, woolen socks, and provisions, von Brandt describes the scenes of Wilna from the time the Cossacks had entered.

"The colonel prepared to depart; at first he hesitated to take us, the wounded, along, asking if we could stand the voyage. I said to remain would be certain death, and with confidence I set out on the march with my men, the number of whom was now twenty. We had sleighs and good horses.

"The night was superb. It was light like day. The stars shone more radiantly than ever upon our misery. The cold was still severe beyond description and more sensible to us who had nearly lost the habit to feel it during forty-eight hours of relief.

"We had to make our way through an indescribable tangle of carriages and wagons to reach the gate, and the road as far as we could see was also covered with vehicles, wagons, sleighs, cannons, all mixed up. We had great difficulties to remain together.

"After an hour's march all came to a halt; we found ourselves before a veritable sea of men. The wagons could not be drawn over a hill on account of the ice, and the road became hopelessly blockaded. Here it was where the military treasure of 12 million francs was given to the soldiers."

Von Brandt describes his most wonderful adventures on the way to Kowno which, although most interesting, add nothing to what has already been described. I gave this foregoing part of von Brandt's narration because it gives a most vivid picture of the life of the soldiers during the supreme moments of the retreat from Moscow.