The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier
Eighteen-year-old German stonemason Jakob Walter served in the Grand Army of Napoleon between 1806 and 1813. His diary intimately records his trials: the long, grueling marches in Prussia and Poland, the disastrous Russian campaign, and the demoralizing defeat in a war few supported or understood. It is at once a compelling chronicle of a young soldier's loss of innocence and an eloquent and moving portrait of the profound effects of all wars on the men who fight them.
Also included are letters home from the Russian front, previously unpublished in English, as well as period engravings and maps from the Russian/Soviet and East European collections of the New York Public Library.
"Vivid and gruesome … but also a story of human fortitude. … It reminds us that the troops Napoleon drove so mercilessly were actually more victims than victors—a side of Napoleon that should not be forgotten."
autobiography, Jakob Walter, had his first military experiences during that war. Since he could not beat England by naval and military means, Napoleon tried to strangle it economically. He proclaimed the Continental Blockade (Decree of Berlin, 21 November 1806) that prohibited all his satellites and allies from trading with England. After practically dismembering Prussia in 1807, Napoleon forced Alexander I, Emperor of Russia, to accept peace (treaty of Tilsit, 8 July 1807) and to join the
hamlet about half a mile away to the left of the highway. We hurried toward it and warmed ourselves there till about five o’clock in the morning. Then I heard cheering and a terrible noise on the highway, to which I called the captain’s attention: “Let’s get away; the Russians must be on the highway.” The captain did not wish to leave the fire, and only after strong argument did he come with me. I then had a horse for myself, in addition to the major’s horse, and took another which stood saddled
first to make large-scale and effective use of what we call psychological warfare; and he did it with the populations at home in view. His famous Bulletins de la Grande Armée served that purpose and, naturally, gave the most optimistic accounts of victories, captured trophies, progress of the campaign, weakness of the enemy. And when the going went from bad to worse, the Bulletins camouflaged the disasters as much as possible. To preserve the credibility of the official news, all correspondence
we retreated, when many died and I lost my health. We retreated twenty-four miles when Emperor Alexander encircled us with 200,000 in our back and captured us. Whoever did not die was taken prisoner. Dear parents, if I had been with the Westphalian or Saxon army I would have kept my own. However, to [my] misfortune I was with the corps of the Prince of Eckmühl1 in the bakery so that they [Russians] did not leave a shirt on our skin. So you can well imagine, dear parents, in what condition I am
former Prussian Poland Prussia—kingdom Ravensburg—20 km N of Friedrichshafen Reichenbach—Silesia, 45 km SW of Breslau Reppen—village in Brandenburg, 18 km E of Frankfurt-on-the-Oder Rettstadt—5 km E of Ellwangen Riga—capital of Lativian S.S.R. Rosenberg—10 km NW of Ellwangen Saale—river in Germany St. Petersburg—Petrograd—Leningrad—captial of Russia from 1712 to 1918 Saulgau—55 km SE of Ulm in Bavaria Saxe-Coburg—Sachsen-Koburg—former principality in Saxony