We tend not to think much upon the effects of the Napoleonic wars on us, Those distant times are viewed as a curious period where hundreds of thousands of gaily dressed combatants slugged it out on distant battlefields with primitive firearms. We wrongly tend to view these romantic trappings as an indication that somehow those wars were less horrible than subsequent wars. The Napoleonic wars easily could have been considered the real First World War (now in its centennial remembrance). Combat flared in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. All such wars share the same elements of brutal combat, starvation, dispossession of peoples, mayhem, and the planting of seeds for the next conflict.
The following is an example of a Napoleonic battlefield viewed the day after the big battle by one of the participants.let us join Louis Joseph Vionett of Napoleon's Imperial Guard on the filed of one of the bloodiest of battlefields, that of Borodino in Russia. The battle inflicted roughly 70,000 human casualties (and tens of thousands of horses) in a fight that occurred within an area of roughly six square miles. It has been called by historians as a precursor of the Great War's western front.
Napoleon's Imperial Guard was held in reserve throughout the battle but had a good position to watch much of a titanic struggle involving roughly 200,000 participants. Even those troops with a poor view of the events could clearly comprehend that the cannonading was far more intense than other battles and many cannon balls (roundshot) fell among the reserves that day. Let us join Louis as he and his unit do what so many faced with such unbelievable suffering, keep from thinking too much about what they have just experienced. (
"At dawn on the 8th of September, I visited the field of battle. I noticed that in many places the corpses were piled up one on top of another. The blood had formed into little streams and the roundshot and canister so covered the ground that resembled hail in the aftermath of a terrible storm. In a number of places, primarily those which had been more exposed than others, and in front of our batteries, there were so many roundshot, shells, and canister that it seemed as though the ground had been transformed into a kind of chaotic arsenal in which piles of roundshot had been knocked over and containers of canister scattered here an there. I cannot see how a single person could have escaped. Yet I was even more amazed when I visited some of the ravines and made my way to the bottom of little valleys. So many shells had rolled there that it was simply beyond comprehension and the sight had to be seen to be believed. I swear that I myself first though that the shells must have been stored there and could barely persuade myself otherwise. I had never seen anything like it before. I stood there like a person amazed, someone who didn't dare believe his own eyes. This place drew me back a number of times. I felt extremely sorry for all the miserable wounded who, as if following some instinct, had dragged themselves into these ravines in the hope of at least being out of the wind. These unfortunates hadn't received any help and were asking to be put out of their misery. There were so many wounded that there was no room in the dressing stations. Those who couldn't drag themselves away from the battlefield stayed where they were, exposed to be trodden underfoot by the horses or crushed by the wagons. Almost all of them would dire from their wounds or out of misery. I saw a French soldier who had had his leg largely carried off by a roundshot, though it remained attached to him by a thin piece of skin. I saw him cut it away with his saber so that he could drag himself along a little better and, I suppose, look for a peaceful corner in which he could die. He came over to a fire which my soldiers had lit for me and I had him made as comfortable as possible. Some other wounded saw this and began to drag themselves over too. I noted that among them was a Russian sergeant who had both his thighs smashed and who spoke a little French. He had been a prisoner in France and had been at Tilsit. My camp was soon overflowing with wounded and we had to seek out another spot. My servants and orderlies complained that I was being too charitable. They carried off the firewood we had collected and so these unfortunates found themselves once again abandoned." (Translation by Johnathan North from his book With Napoleon's Guard in Russia" a book a heartily recommend for those with an interest in the topic.)
In his new spot Louis dined on steaks cut from a freshly killed horse before the early-afternoon saw him and his command under arms and pursuing the fleeing Russian army. By five o'clock that afternoon he was present at a combat near a village on the Mojaisk Road, suffering from thirst and preparing to camp for a very cold night. The horrors of the Borodino battlefield had been left behind, but at that place the grim reaper claimed victims for weeks to come. During the retreat from Moscow several weeks later the French troops passing through the battlefield, then a board area of unburied corpses and refuse of the battle, heard a voice coming from within the corpse of a horse. Inside they found a wounded French soldier who had crawled into the dead beast and was living off the rotting flesh. He was remarkable for his good attitude despite having just suffered the tortures of the damned. They put the unfortunate man on a cart but he likely perished in horrors of Napoleon's retreat from Russia. It was not a romantic war.