Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tip of the Spear

Cossacks Charge!
Early the next day (the 25th), the Emperor carried out a personal reconnaissance of the south bank [of the Lusha River in Maloyaroslavets].  This proved quite and exciting occasion.  Sergeant Bourgogne of the Imperial Guard was an eyewitness of an incident which almost resulted in Napoleon being taken prisoner.  As he rode forward with his staff, escorted by the usual two squadrons of Chasseurs of the Guard, a formation of Cossacks suddenly appeared from a nearby wood and charged straight for him.  General Rapp and the escort only just succeeded in driving the enemy off, and one Cossack fought his way to within twenty yards of the Emperor.  Bourgogne was a member of a Guard formation rushed up to the rescue.  "As we came onto the plain, we saw the Emperor almost in the midst of the Cossacks, surrounded by generals and staff officers.  One of the latter was wounded through a singular mischance.  At the instant when the cavalry entered the plain, several officers were forced to draw their sabres to protect themselves and the Emperor, who was in their midst and might have been taken.  One of the staff officers, however, after killing a Cossack and wounding several more, lost his hat, and then dropped his sabre.  Finding himself weaponless, he rushed at a Cossack and snatched away his lance and began to defend himself with it.  At that very moment he was spotted by a Horse Grenadier of the Guard, who, mistaking him for a Cossack, because of his green cloak and lance, rode him down and passed his sabre through his body."  We learn later from Marbot, however, that the unfortunate staff officer survived his wound and in due course regained France in safety -- which is more than can be said for a great many more who participated in this skirmish.

~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, p. 822

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