Napoleon’s disastrous campaign in Russia ended with a long and torturous march home to France. 380,000 French lives were lost and 100,000 captured in this campaign. I feel certain that the horses and the soldiers were in much worse shape than they appear in this painting by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier of Napoleon. This is a very different Napoleon than the one that had set off to conquer Russia in June of 1812. Five months, two weeks and six days later ( December 14, 1812) the destruction of the French army was complete.
This week, leading up to Remembrance Day, I will be honoring the horses who have fought and died in so many battles over the centuries.
Napoleon is always depicted on a white horse. The most famous of his horses were Tamerian and Marengo both of whom were small horses that were easier for the emperor to get on. It has been reported that Napoleon was not a very sympathetic rider and expected his horses to go on tirelessly on long days and in difficult conditions. His horses were often Arab or part Arab as these breeds are known for their stamina and endurance.
For a record of the Napoleonic battles in Europe and Russia I like Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” the best. He takes you right into the confusion and horror of the battles. The battle outside Moscow is particularly gripping and also disturbing. Having read this I look on this photo of retreat and know that both horses and riders are trudging through the cold air over the frozen ground in a state of shock.