1806 The Autumn of No Return

Four marches out of Warsaw, Napoleon and the Guard spent Christmas night at Lopaczin, a wretched collection of wooden hovels. The Emperor had failed to trap the mass of the retiring Russians, and his felt bicorne hat drooped limply as the Guard’s bearskin caps, full of water, swung from their belts.
At nightfall, as we were traversing a very dense pine forest, I was called by name, by three or four fellow-Lorrainers, from Blesle, who had fallen to the rear of their corps; they were what one calls marauders or stragglers. Having halted near a canteen, they offered me some bread and pickled pork, which I accepted with pleasure, having eaten nothing during the day. Having spent some time with them, I tried to regain my company, but I went astray, with a number of my comrades, in this infernal forest, which seemed to be limitless. At length, at daybreak, we came to a hamlet where a number of soldiers had taken refuge. I learned with pleasure that my regiment was not far distant. I stopped for a short rest, for I was dropping with sleep and fatigue. When I saw that the regiment was getting ready to depart I made for it across country. The surface only of the ground was frozen, on account of the thaw which had set in the previous day, so that at every step I plunged deep into the soft earth, so that I could hardly drag my feet out again. My shoes would have remained there had I not decided to carry them in my hands and to walk barefoot. In this way I went more than five miles on a crust of ice that broke at every step. I was not able to put my shoes on again, taking advantage of a moment’s halt, until long after I had rejoined the company.

Some of the older Guardsmen began to lose heart, preferring suicide to the damp cold and miserable hunger. The Guard alone lost about sixty men in two days. Other troops stayed behind to provide detachments all along the route of march, to guard bridges and prisoners and protect supplies.

After a headlong ride through the sea of mud churned up by the armies, Murat—still recovering from his attack of fever—overtook the Emperor ...

From OSG's Special Study Nr. 2 -
1806 The Autumn of No Return