In June 1812, Napoleon’s 680,000 strong Grande Armée crossed the Neman River and invaded Russia.
When the remnants of Napoleon’s army returned over the Berezina River in November, only 27,000 effective soldiers remained.
Adrien Bourgogne’s Memoirs is one of the most vivid and moving accounts of this dramatic turning point in the Napoleonic Wars.
Bourgogne had been in the Napoleonic Army since the campaign of 1806 in Poland. He had taken part in the Battle of Essling, and had fought in Germany, Austria, Spain and Portugal. But none of this could prepare him for the campaign of 1812.
The memoir begins with the long travel from Portugal to Moscow where the French were able to defeat the Russian armies in small battles and take the city. But this victory soon became a nightmare as supplies ran short and winter descended onto the Grande Armée.
Without being able strike a decisive blow against the Russians, Napoleon was forced to retreat across the barren, snow-covered lands of western Russia.
Bourgogne’s account of this agonising journey back towards France truly captures the horrific experience of the troops.
As their rearguard was constantly harassed by Cossacks, the French stumbled across the landscape. Some died from hunger, others from merely sleeping on the ground and freezing to death.
Bourgogne’s Memoir is an extremely personal account of this time, as he details how he and his comrades did absolutely anything to survive. These proud troops of France who had defeated every army they faced were reduced to killing their horses, stealing, pillaging and begging. But throughout they never lost faith in their leader, Napoleon.
The Memoirs of Sergeant Bourgogne are essential reading for anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars and Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia.
These memoirs were written during his months of captivity. After his life in the army he worked as a draper before re-enlisting in the army in 1830 and receiving the Legion of Honor in 1831. In 1853, Adrien Bourgogne retired and completed his memoirs entitled Memoirs of Sergeant Bourgogne, appearing in the New Retrospective Review. He died in 1867. This edition was compiled and translated by Paul Cottin in 1899. Cottin died in 1932.