Napoleon’s 6 Days in 1814 (2) Syria, But 200 Years Ago

I prefer pre-1939 wargaming because these wars were clean wars, no genocide, no war crimes, fair play. I should have known better. Although war crimes were not as industrial as for example the holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the bombings of civilian targets in modern wars or Ruanda, war crimes against civilians were common. I was aware of the dirty Napoleonic guerilla war in Spain. I never really realized that undisciplined Napoleonic troops routinely killed, raped, plundered and terrorized the civilians.

19th century French historian Henry Houssaye, in “Napoleon and the Campaign of 1814”, describes the war crimes committed by the allied troops when the entered France, in particular the feared Cossacks.

One of their favourite amusements was to strip men and women naked and drive them with whips out into the snow-covered country (…) in a college the head master would be stripped naked and flogged in the courtyard before the assembled scholars (…) at Athies, Mesbrecourt, Corbeny, and Clacy the whole towns were destroyed.

They robbed, tortured and killed civilians.

The priests of Montlandon and Rolampont were left for dead. At Bucy-le-Long the Cossacks roasted the legs of a servant named Leclerc who had been left in charge of a country house, and as he still refused to speak they filled his mouth with hay and set it on fire. At Nogent a cloth-merchant named Hubert was set upon by a dozen Prussians who pulled on his arms and legs till he was almost torn into pieces, and a kindly bullet ended his sufferings, and at Provins a baby was thrown upon the fire to make its mother speak. A woman of eighty was wearing a diamond ring, and as it fitted tightly and could not easily be drawn off, her finger was chopped off with a sword.

In Montmirail

One man was stripped naked and tied in a chair with his feet in a basin of melted snow, and was set in the street to watch his home being pillaged. The Cossacks also took fifteen of the leading men of the town, stripped them naked and gave them each fifty lashes with the knout.

A guerilla started:

The peasants who were so cruelly disabused of their trust in the proclamations cried out that they were ready to hunt the enemy like wild beasts, and this was no vain threat. (…)

At Montereau and Troyes in the latter part of the battles, the inhabitants hurled tiles or pieces of furniture on to the head of the Austrians and shot them from behind the shutters or from the manholes of cellars (…) The parish priest of Pers, near Montargis, became a leader of partisans, and at the head of a dozen men armed with double-barrelled guns he defended his village or laid ambushes and held up convoys: as chief of the band he rode on horseback with his cassock tucked up, a sword at his side, and a musket slung across his shoulders (…)

Near Piney, the farm of Gerandot was known as the Cossacks’ tomb: they were given a hearty welcome and provided with as much drink as they wanted, and then, while they were drinking their brandy, the farmer, with his servants and labourers, shot them through the windows; none ever came away from Gerandot to tell the tale of what happened there.

A young widow who lived in a large, isolated house near Essayes took in sixty Cossacks and made them all drunk, and then during the night with the help of her servants she set her house on fire. Near Bar-sur-Ornain the peasants murdered a Prussian general who had remained behind with a small escort.

I don’t think that the French soldiers behaved better during the years they campaigned in Flanders, Germany, Austria or Russia. I happen to think that the Prussians, Cossacks and Austrians just returned the favor.

Bloody wars. Very present-day-Syria. Wargaming is fun, but I prefer the gaming, not the war.

(to be continued)

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