Military Review

Napoleon's Grand Army Medical Service: On the Battlefield

Napoleon's Grand Army Medical Service: On the Battlefield
The death of the invasion. Painting by Vasily Nesterenko. In the Napoleonic era, the fate of the wounded abandoned on the battlefield was unenviable.

This is the second article on the French medical service during the Napoleonic wars. In the first material Medical Service of Napoleon's Grand Army we talked about stories its formation.

Napoleon's order to abandon the wounded

In the memoirs of direct participants in the events of the Napoleonic era, images of the battlefields and how they looked at the end of the battles are necessarily present. Especially such large ones as Preussisch-Eylau, Friedland, Aspern, Wagram, Borodino, Leipzig or Waterloo.

Since the masses of troops were drawn into a limited space, intense artillery fire, heavy firing of infantry squares and cavalry attacks reaped a truly bloody harvest. Suffice it to recall the Borodino field, on each square kilometer of which there were 3000 dead Russian soldiers and soldiers of the Napoleonic army.

But much more than the killed, there were wounded and shell-shocked. Artillery balls, rolling on the ground and bouncing by inertia, broke their legs, without causing instant death. Bullets and saber strikes knocked the infantry out of the ranks. But also not all of them are fatal. To this must be added a large number of wounds (in particular, craniocerebral) from branches knocked down by cannonballs, or from collapsed buildings.

The wounded during the battle envied the fate of the dead. In the first revolutionary wars, it still happened that soldiers carried wounded comrades from the battlefield, guided not so much by a feeling of pity as by the desire to save their own lives.

If the wounded man was conscious, he was put on a gun carried by a couple of soldiers. And those who were unconscious were already carried out by four on their greatcoats. With a large number of wounded, their evacuation to the rear significantly weakened the active regiments.

Therefore, already during the Italian campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte forbade the removal of the wounded from the battlefield. Subsequently, he repeated his order several times.

For example, on the eve of the battle at Wagram in the daily order for the army, the emperor, among other things, unambiguously emphasized:

“The wounded who cannot walk themselves remain on the battlefield.

It is forbidden to leave the battle formations to transport the wounded. "

Therefore, the wounded were left to their own devices where they were overtaken by a bullet, bayonet or saber.

In the best case, the comrades dragged the poor fellows several meters, under trees or wagons, in order to at least to some extent protect them from horse hooves and cannon wheels. Many died before the battles ended. Others were already in agony when the battle was over. And they, in general, were not engaged in such.

The rule was to collect after the battle only those wounded, whose condition gave hope for successful treatment. The wounded in the abdominal cavity could not count on any assistance, unless they were senior officers.

Ordinary soldiers were ready to deal with their wounded comrades after the battle. But often battalions and squadrons changed their position in battle formations, and after several attacks and counterattacks it was no longer clear where their fellow soldiers had fallen a few hours earlier and whether they were still alive.

Robbers and marauders

As soon as the battle ended, looters and peasants from neighboring villages, eager for prey, appeared on the battlefield. They ripped off the killed, dying, and often seriously wounded. They were looking primarily for money, rings, weapon and everything that could be useful in a hike or household.

The loot could either be sold in the nearest town, or kept with you as trophies. Boots, raincoats and uniforms were also stripped from the wounded, which was due to the constant shortage of clothing and shoes. If the wounded protested (which obviously happened), then the robbers, even from the same army, mercilessly killed them in order to acquire what, as they cynically said,

"No longer useful to blind man's buffs."

After such a campaign of robbers, many wounded, deprived of shoes and clothes, died in the cold or in the rain.

After the robbers, soldiers or peasants, sent to bury the dead, came to the battlefield. This did not always happen immediately after the battle, but, rather, under the pressure of circumstances, when the army fought in hot weather, for example, in Italy or Spain. It was about the desire to prevent epidemics, the fear of which was enormous. Soldiers and peasants went to the funeral teams willingly, hoping that, despite the previous passage of the marauders, with the dead they could still find something to profit from.

The soldier was buried along with the horses, making no difference between friends and foes. There were no ceremonies with the participation of chaplains. The corpses were simply dumped into huge mass graves, sprinkling with only a thin layer of earth, often without crosses or other markings of burial places. Smelling fresh blood, stray dogs and wild animals gathered to the graves and dug up corpses. If the army was setting up bivouacs on the battlefield, sentries fired at the animals to scare them away.

Everyone was buried in this way - from ordinary soldiers to senior officers of the Great Army.
Individual burials were rare. The place where General François-Joseph Kirgener died and was buried in Merkersdorf is still marked with a stone with his name.

In the cathedral in Oliva, a memorial plate has been preserved over the burial place of Colonel Nicolas Imrecourt, who died during the siege of Danzig.

The remains of some senior officers were transported to France only through the efforts of their wealthy families or by direct order of Napoleon.

For example, the body of Marshal Jean Lanne, who died after amputating his leg at the Battle of Essling, returned to Paris. Or General Antoine Charles Louis de Lassalle, who died at Wagram.

But in a huge number of cases it was not possible to deal with a proper burial, because in every battle many officers, and even generals, were killed.

(Adapted from J.-C. Quennevat. Les vrais soldats de Napoleon... Sequoia-Elsevier, 1968).

Продолжение следует ...

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  1. TerraSandera
    TerraSandera 25 February 2021 18: 10
    A cruel fate ... I did not think that everything was so sad.
    1. credo
      credo 25 February 2021 18: 21
      Quote: TerraSandera
      A cruel fate ... I did not think that everything was so sad.

      It's just that it is never advertised, so as not to cause fear among the soldiers and discontent among its population.
      1. Stas157
        Stas157 25 February 2021 22: 29
        But for a second, it was the best army in Europe! It is known that Napoleon treated ordinary soldiers very well, forbade executions (traditional for the armies of those times). And he had great respect for the army, by no means out of nowhere. The described gloomy picture is knocked out of understanding. And the author, unfortunately, did not give any explanation for this. How could this polarity exist?

        The article is of some fragmentary character and smacks of yellowness. Everything is in black light. With such an attitude, the army should be demoralized ... but for some reason it marched and won (until Kutuzov changed direction).

        Perhaps some of the events described by the author took place, but there probably were some reasons (because of which the soldiers treated with understanding what was happening). And why was it not said how things were in other armies, in particular in the Russian? There is a lack of comprehensiveness and a picture as a whole for the puzzle of understanding what is happening correctly.
    2. Terenin
      Terenin 25 February 2021 18: 44
      Quote: TerraSandera
      A cruel fate ... I did not think that everything was so sad.

      This is from the read, but in fact it is even sadder.
      1. 210ox
        210ox 26 February 2021 16: 52
        I think that this situation was everywhere then. Not only in the Napoleonic army. Took it for granted, war is a cruel thing.
        1. Terenin
          Terenin 26 February 2021 16: 57
          Quote: 210ox
          I think that this situation was everywhere then. Not only in the Napoleonic army. Took it for granted, war is a cruel thing.

          Yes. As M. Dostoevsky put it:
          "Man is a being who gets used to everything, and I think this is the best definition of a man."

  2. BAI
    BAI 25 February 2021 18: 12
    Yes, Borodino is another topic:
    the unburied corpses of killed servicemen and horses were collected in pits and barns and covered with earth after the French left Moscow. A further reburial has never been carried out to this day. From the memoirs of the wife of the deceased General Tuchkov, it is known that the corpses of those killed were also burned (Note 3 *)
    - on the battlefield, from which the Russian army left the day after the Battle of Borodino, the Russians were left seriously wounded and killed. Some of the wounded, who could move, during the night moved to the signal lights of the Russian army retreating to nearby heights. In accordance with Napoleon's order, the wounded Russian servicemen were provided with feasible medical assistance on a par with the wounded French. The losses at the end of the Battle of Borodino were so painful for both armies that many of the wounded, both French and Russian, died on the battlefield just days after the battle due to the inability to provide medical assistance. Due to the possibility of the spread of infections, the unidentified victims had to be burned. The identified dead were allowed, by order of the French command, to be taken away for subsequent burial. Russian priests and close relatives of those killed were allowed to search for the bodies of those killed on the battlefield (Note 3 *)
    - 3 days after the Battle of Borodino, the French ate what they found with the killed Russian soldiers (Note 2 *)
  3. Destiny
    Destiny 25 February 2021 18: 58
    Thanks to the author, we look forward to continuing, the topic is very deep and interesting!
  4. napalm
    napalm 25 February 2021 19: 21
    The beginning of the French film "Colonel Chabert". How to collect cuirasses in a heap taking them off the dead. After Eylau. Strong scene.
  5. Hunter 2
    Hunter 2 25 February 2021 19: 44
    I am glad that a new author has appeared in the history section! Thank you for a very entertaining series of articles, the topic of field medicine is close to everyone who served, and even more so participated in the database. We are waiting for the continuation hi
    1. Richard
      Richard 26 February 2021 15: 40
      The place where General François-Joseph Kirgener died and was buried in Merkersdorf is still marked with a stone with his name.

      Not certainly in that way.
      François-Joseph Kirgener was not buried at the place of death. And where the nuclei from Merkersdorf did not reach. His heart was taken to France and buried in a crypt at the Montmartre cemetery.
      By the way, he died on May 22, 1813, not alone - together with him, during an inspection of the positions near the Saxon town of Markersdorf, the Napoleonic inspector general and Chief Marshal Duroc were killed by the Saxon core. As eyewitnesses write, there is not much left of the general's bodies,
      1. Richard
        Richard 26 February 2021 16: 03
        Thanks for the article. It was interesting
    2. Former naval person
      26 February 2021 15: 48
      thank. to be continued.
  6. ee2100
    ee2100 25 February 2021 21: 11
    The topic is important and interesting for many, and therefore do not take it for grumbling, but the history of the creation of military field surgery, in my opinion, should have begun with a description of the strategy and tactics used in European countries at the beginning of the XIX century and how these wars differed from the wars of the XVIII century.
    On this occasion, you can familiarize yourself with the book of the world famous historian O. Sokolov "Strategy and tactics of the Napoleonic army".
    It would be useful to describe the main types of wounds received by soldiers and officers on the battlefield at that time.
    And only then go directly to the main topic.
    1. Aviator_
      Aviator_ 25 February 2021 22: 05
      world famous historian O. Sokolov

      Is this the one who killed his graduate student and started dismemberment?
      1. ee2100
        ee2100 25 February 2021 22: 49
        And you know him!
        1. Aviator_
          Aviator_ 26 February 2021 07: 58
          The country must know its heroes. Pushkin was wrong - genius and villainy are quite compatible.
    2. Glory1974
      Glory1974 26 February 2021 09: 12
      to get acquainted with the book of the world famous historian O. Sokolov

      Sokolov is widely known in narrow circles. And another world famous historian Ponasenkov, who wrote "The first scientific work on the history of the war of 1812" , accuses Sokolov of plagiarism.
      The bookstore sells books of one and two.
      1. ee2100
        ee2100 26 February 2021 11: 45
        It's like proving the equation 2 + 2 = 4. Both got the result close to four and begin to argue who cheated from whom.
        I mentioned Sokolov's book "on strategy and tactics ..."
        Documents from the times of Napoleon no longer appear, but "discoveries" must be made. Panasenko is more radical, but this does not mean that he is wrong.
      2. Former naval person
        26 February 2021 16: 07
        Ponosenkov lost the trial in the plagiarism case. it turned out that he stole texts not only from the falcon but also from many others.
    3. Former naval person
      26 February 2021 15: 56
      there will be more articles. they were originally conceived as part of a cycle dedicated to the great army of Napoleon and some of the issues that you mentioned, or have already been covered, or will be covered in other articles. in general, if you write in detail on each topic, then it is easier to write a book, and, of course, you want to distribute the book for money. but I accept criticism, even more than praise. perhaps they will inspire me for new essays.
      1. ee2100
        ee2100 26 February 2021 19: 44
        Maybe my criticism may be. and slightly prickly, but I am more than approving of the topic of military field surgery. I did not say a word of reproach to yours, I expressed only my vision of this issue.
        Maybe I'm running a little ahead of the carriage, but this is my vision of this issue.
        Good luck and success! But what you don't like, I will definitely inform you !!!!
        1. Former naval person
          27 February 2021 10: 24
          and I was not offended. I'm interested in the reaction of the readers. I'm just explaining the idea behind this series of articles. if there are no questions about the content, but only about the organization of the material, then I am satisfied.
          1. ee2100
            ee2100 27 February 2021 18: 26
            I will express my opinion - the site has been crushed. Write always happy to find something to criticize am
  7. Dimide
    Dimide 25 February 2021 21: 30
    Test article
    Primary medical aid on the battlefield in those days was an ephemeral thing.
    To paraphrase: - the salvation of the wounded, the work of the wounded themselves
  8. Avior
    Avior 25 February 2021 21: 52
    Dominique Jean Larrey, chief surgeon of the French army, "father of the ambulance"

    During the Battle of Borodino, he conducted operations, including 200 amputations.
    Actually, among the French, the situation was even relatively better with the help of the wounded thanks to Lorray, who introduced the basic principles of military field surgery, in particular, the triage of the wounded - triage and "ambulance" - carts for the quick delivery of the wounded to the hospital from the battlefield.
    One can only imagine what the rest was going on. The soldier at all times has a hard time, but then especially: ((
    Later, already during the Crimean War, Pirogov introduced similar sorting principles to the Russian army.
    1. Dimide
      Dimide 25 February 2021 22: 52
      This is 1812, no anti-shock, no sensible antiseptics, no anesthesia, no antibiotics, no sterilization - I can imagine what the death rate was, darkness
    2. Richard
      Richard 26 February 2021 15: 59
      Picture. "Ambulance of Larrey in 1813". Artist Yuen (Victor Huen) Victor (1874-1939). France
      1. Richard
        Richard 26 February 2021 16: 13
        Here are some more French depictions of the Larrey ambulance carts.

        the second canvas apparently depicts Dominique Jean Larrey himself
        1. Former naval person
          26 February 2021 17: 11
          actually, the first painting by a Spanish artist depicts a Spanish infirmary. he had nothing to do with "volatile ambulances". just compare with the third picture.
          1. Richard
            Richard 26 February 2021 17: 19
            Thanks for the amendment.
  9. Glory1974
    Glory1974 26 February 2021 09: 16
    already during the Italian campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte forbade the removal of the wounded from the battlefield. Subsequently, he repeated his order several times.

    He forbade doing this during the battle. After the battle, it was imperative to carry out the wounded, otherwise the army would simply scatter if the wounded were left to die.
  10. Pavel57
    Pavel57 26 February 2021 15: 21
    My friend, in deadly agony
    do not call your friends in vain.
    Let me warm my palms better. I
    over your steaming blood.
    Do not cry, do not groan, you're not small,
    you are not injured, you are simply killed.
    Let me take off your felt boots.
    We still have to advance.
    1. Avior
      Avior 26 February 2021 17: 43
      Sad Truth of life: ((((
      The author, a front-line soldier, was accused of slandering the Red Army.
      Blizzard, night ... A field full of the dead.
      A blizzard swept over the battlefield.
      The blood froze like fountains
      On numb bodies.
      On the boyish corpses frozen
      Red ice cones are cooling.
      My friend, you are moaning, you are still alive,
      What are you crawling through the field here?
      My friend, it's too late for me to save you,
      You're covered in blood, don't call people.
      Come on, better dragging you through the snow
      I will warm my palms
      Over your steaming blood ...
  11. Nestor Vlakhovski
    Nestor Vlakhovski 26 February 2021 19: 51
    Thank you for the interesting and, I hope, accurate story.
    I would like to read about military medicine from other eras in a similar performance.
    As ital, the military medical service was quite developed in ancient Rome and archaeologists often find medical tools and the remains of soldiers with signs of healed wounds.
  12. Split
    Split 27 February 2021 11: 25
    Medical service? article a little about something else recourse
    Before antibiotics, any wound could ... and even given the level of surgery, even more so. The bullet was really a fool there ... a piece of lead the size of a modern hunting one, and often with the remains of paper and other wads, which were by no means sterile.
    There were times (c) Right now, it’s scary to fight, but in those days it’s really dead right to be better than wounded, I was cut by shrapnel, but the armor kept it, thank God ... drinks
  13. Timofey Charuta
    Timofey Charuta April 11 2021 19: 11
    The paradox of history - despite all the horrors of war - it continues to be a means of world politics. The name does not matter - war, conflict, incident, etc. Two generals were torn to shreds by a cannonball at once. Patriotism and pacifism ...