The threatening barrier had been surmounted, and on went the march to Wilna, without any possibility of a day's rest, because the miserable remainder of the French army was still followed by light Russian troops.

During the first days after the crossing of the Beresina the supply of food had improved, it was better indeed than at any time during the retreat. They passed through villages which had not suffered from the war, in which the barns were well filled with grain and with feed for the horses, and there lived rich Jews who could sell whatever the soldiers needed. Unfortunately, however, this improved condition lasted only a few days, from November 30th. to December 4th., and before Wilna was reached the want was felt again and made itself felt the more on account of the most intense cold which had set in.

During the few good days the soldiers had eaten roast pork, and all kinds of vegetables, in consequence their weakened digestive tract had been overtaxed so that diarrhoea became prevalent, a most frightful condition during a march on the road, with a temperature of 25 deg. below zero, Reaumur (about 25 deg. below zero, Fahrenheit).

The 6th. of December was a frightful day, although the cold had not yet reached its climax which happened on the 7th. and 8th. of December, namely 28 deg. below zero, Reaumur (31 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit).

Holzhausen gives a graphic description of the supernatural silence which reigned and which reminded of the silence in the arctic regions. There was not the slightest breeze, the snowflakes fell vertically, crystal-clear, the snow blinded the eyes, the sun appeared like a red hot ball with a halo, the sign of greatest cold.

The details of the descriptions which Holzhausen has collected from old papers surpass by far all we have learned from von Scherer's and Beaupre's writings. And all that Holzhausen relates is verified by names of absolute reliability; it verifies the accounts of the two authors named.

General von Roeder, one of the noblest of the German officers in Napoleon's army - a facsimile of one of his letters is given in Holzhausen's book - says about the murderous 7th. of December: "Pilgrims of the Grand Army, who had withstood many a severe frost indeed, dropped like flies, and of those who were well nourished, well clothed - many of these being of the reserve corps having but recently come from Wilna to join the retreating army, - countless numbers fell exactly like the old exhausted warriors who had dragged themselves from Moscow to this place."

The reserve troops of which Roeder speaks were the division Loison, the last great body of men that had followed the army. They had been in Koenigsberg and had marched from there to Wilna during the month of November, had remained in the latter place until December 4th., when they were sent to protect the retreating soldiers and the Emperor himself, on leaving the wreck of his once grand army at Smorgoni on December 5th.

These troops who thus far had not sustained any hardships, came directly from the warm quarters of Wilna into the terrible cold.

It was quite frightful, says Roeder, to see these men, who a moment before had been talking quite lively, drop dead as if struck by lightning.

D. Geissler, a Weimaranian surgeon, renders a similar report and adds that in some cases these victims suffered untold agonies before they died.

Lieutenant Jacobs states that some said good bye to their comrades and laid down along the road to die, that others acted like maniacs, cursed their fate, fell down, rose again, and fell down once more, never to rise again. Cases like the latter have been described also by First Lieutenant von Schauroth.

Under these circumstances, says Holzhausen, it appears almost incomprehensible that there were men who withstood a misery which surpassed all human dimensions. And still there were such; who by manfully bearing these sufferings, set to others a good example; there were whole troops who, to protect others in pertinacious rear guard fights, opposed the on-pressing enemy.

Wonderful examples of courage and self-denial gave some women, the wife of a Sergeant-Major Martens, who had followed the army, and a Mrs. Basler, who was always active, preparing some food while her husband with others was lying exhausted at the camp fire, and who seldom spoke, never complained. This poor woman lost a son, a drummer boy, who had been wounded at Smolensk. She as well as her husband perished in Wilna.

Sergeant Toenges dragged a blind comrade along - I shall not leave him, he said. Grenadiers, sitting around a fire, had pity on him and tried to relieve his sufferings. Many such examples are enumerated in Holzhausen's book.

Our highest admiration is due to the conduct of the brave troops of the rear guard who fought the Russians, who sacrificed themselves for the sake of the whole, and, like at Krasnoe and at the Beresina, for their disbanded comrades.

The rearguard was at first commanded by Ney, then, after the 3rd. of December, by Marshal Victor; after the dissolution of Victor's corps at Smorgoni and Krapowna, by Loison and, finally, near Wilna, by Wrede with his Bavarians.

Count Hochberg has given a classical description of the life in the rear guard; it is the most elevating description of greatness, of human magnanimity, and it fills us with admiration for the noble, the brave soldier.

Interesting is the engagement at Malodeszno. A certain spell hangs over this fight; here perished two Saxon regiments that had gloriously fought at the Beresina.

The scene was a romantic park with the castle of Count Oginsky where Napoleon had had his headquarters on the preceding day, and from where he dated his for ever memorable 29th. bulletin in which he told the world the ruin of his army.

Toward 2 o'clock in the afternoon the enemy attacked the division of Girard who was supported by Count Hochberg. Then the Russians attacked the park itself. The situation was very serious, because the Badensian troops under Hochberg had only a few cartridges and could not properly answer the fire of the enemy. Night came, and the darkness, writes a Badensian sergeant, was of great advantage to us, for the Russians stood against a very small number, the proportion being one battalion to 100 men. Count Hochberg led his brigade, attacking with the bayonet, and nearly became a victim of his courage. The Badensian troops drove the enemy away, but they themselves received the death blow. Count Hochberg said he had no soldiers left whom he could command.

And now it was the division Loison which formed the rear guard.

On the 5th. of December this division had come to Smorgoni where Napoleon took leave from his marshals and from his army, after he had entrusted Murat with the command.

The division Loison, during the eventful night from December 5th. to 6th., had rendered great services. Without the presence of Loison's soldiers Napoleon would have fallen into the hands of his enemies, and the wheel of the history of the world would have taken a different turn.

Dr. Geissler describes Napoleon, whom he saw at a few paces' distance on the day of his departure, and he writes "the personality of this extraordinary man, his physiognomy with the stamp of supreme originality, the remembrance of his powerful deeds by which he moved the world during his time, carried us away in involuntary admiration. Was not the voice which we heard the same which resounded all over Europe, which declared wars, decided battles, regulated the fate of empires, elevated or extinguished the glory of so many."

It may appear strange that in a medical history I record these details, but I give them because they show how the personality of Napoleon had retained its magic influence even in that critical moment.

The soldiers wanted to salute him with their Vive l'Empereur! but, in consideration of the assumed incognito of the Imperator without an army, it was interdicted.

Up to this day Napoleon has been blamed for his step, to leave the army. At the Beresina he had refused with pride the offer of some Poles to take him over the river and to bring him safely to Wilna. Now there was nothing more to save of the army, and other duties called him peremptorily away. If we study well the situation, the complications which had arisen from the catastrophe and which were to arise in the following year, we must in justice to him admit that he was obliged to go in order to create another army.

It is not a complete history which I am writing; otherwise it would be my duty to speak of the deep impression, the dramatic effect, which Napoleon's departure had made on his soldiers. In presenting somewhat extensively some details of those days I simply wished to show who they were and how many brave men there were who had been spared for the atrocities of Wilna.

If I were to do justice to the voluminous material before me of the bravery of the soldiers on their march from the Beresina to Wilna I would have to write a whole book on this part of the history alone.

       * * * * *

Once more the hope of the unfortunates should be disappointed in a most cruel way. They knew of fresh troops and of rich magazines in Wilna. But only 2 thousand men were left of the Loison division, not enough to defend the place against the enemy whose coming was to be expected.

The provisions, however, were stored in the magazines, and there were, according to French accounts, forty day rations of bread, flour and crackers for 100 thousand men, cattle for 36 days, 9 million rations of wine and brandy; in addition, vegetables and food for horses, as well as clothing in abundance.

Unfortunately, the governor of Wilna, the Duke of Bassano, was only a diplomat, entirely incompetent to handle the situation, which required military talent.

Unfortunate had also been Napoleon's choice of Murat. On August 31st, 1817, he said in conversation with Gourgaud, "I have made a great mistake in entrusting Murat with the highest command of the army, because he was the most incompetent man to act successfully under such circumstances."

No preparations were made for the entering troops, no quarters had been assigned for them when they came.

And they came on the 9th; most horrible details have been recorded of this day when the disbanded mass crowded the gate.

Wilna was not only not in ruins, but it was the only large city which had not been abandoned by its inhabitants. But these inhabitants shut their doors before the entering soldiers. Only some officers and some Germans, the latter among the families of German mechanics, found an abode in the houses. Some Poles were hospitable, also some Lithuanians, and even the Jews.

All writers complain of the avidity and cruelty of the latter; they mixed among the soldiers to obtain whatever they had saved from the pillage of Moscow. These Jews had everything the soldier was in need of, bread and brandy, delicacies and even horses and sleighs; in their restaurants all who had money or valuables could be accommodated. And these places were crowded with soldiers who feasted at the well supplied tables, and even hilarity developed among these men saved from the ice fields of Russia. During the night every space was occupied as a resting place.

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.

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.