The retreat of Grande Armée
from Moscow to Smolensk
according the letters of French soldiers

By Nikolay Promyslov

The correspondence of Grande Armée soldiers is a priceless source in many aspects of the history of Napoleon’s Russian campaign and the Age of Napoleon as a whole. These letters contain interesting facts about common daily life of French army and about the image of Russia in early 19th century France. Unlike memoirs, the letters showed firsthand impressions and the authors did not analyze what they saw. They also did not have any desire to rouse the interest of the readers like the memoirists. But Cabinet Noir had a certain influence on the letters content. In short period of the Grande Armée retreat from Moscow to Smolensk, conditions of life took on special significance because the winter approached and the French army seemed destined to spend the cold season in Russia or in Poland. The correspondence of this period had little information about battles and military operations because the authors left such news for bulletins and newspapers. They wrote to their friends and relatives mostly about their own problems and failings.