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Toni Ford

History 1700
June 21, 2016
The Life of a Soldier in the Grande Armee
During one of the most severe and harshest military operations in
history, Jakob Walter describes what fighting in Napoleonic Wars were like. It
seems though not for his own reflections, but for the future generations to
look back upon.
In 1806, Walter an eighteen year old German stonesmason, and his
brother both from Germany were drafted to serve in Naploleons Grande
Armee. The Confederation of the Rhine took two states of Germany,
Wurttermberg and Westphalia, and made them vassals of France. This was
because at that time the French were lacking manpower. For the next
several years until 1813, Jakob Walter would be serving Frances Grande
Armee. His only hope was to survive and return to his family. He would gain
nothing fighting these wars.
It started in the fall of 1806 when the Grande Armee traveled towards
Prussia, Walter and some of his comrades were meeting up with the rest of
the army. It was in Bunzlau that one of Walters comrades picked on a man to
sing. The man full of sorrow could not, therefore Soldier Hummel decided to
frighten him by shooting off his gun. Walter describes this scene in order to

show how the soldiers were running wild. They also caught a spy who
would be brought before the guard house. He was collecting information on
the Grande Armees strengths and manpower. According to Walter He was
laid on a bench and whipped by two or three corporals. Two men had to hold
his feet and two his head, he received about one hundred and fifty blows.
After the beatings the spy was then shot to his death.
All leading into the war with Prussia, Walter would escort the money
wagons to the Grande Armee, guard the storeroom, and then himself and
eight other men were ordered to overtake food supplies from the villages.
They also had to steal a couple of horses. Days later, starving and cold, four
of them came unto a Jews home. They sternly had to order a women to cook
them food, and give them shelter.
Taking over a fortress in Colberg, they quartered in some old barracks
built from sod. Walter got sick and stayed in the hospital. According to
Walter Twelve to fifteen of the men about me died every day, which made
me sick to my stomach and I would have caused my death in the end if I and
four comrades had not reported ourselves as being well even on the second
day and escaped. He also states This hospital and three others, according
to rumor, had six thousand sick people. Walter and his comrades leave to
rejoin there regiment.
In good health Walter and his comrades reach Colberg. Pentecost
Night was especially remembered in Walters memory. It was the night that

the fortress got stormed by Prussians. It was a victorious battle for the
Grande Armee as they pushed their way to the fortress gates. Unable to get
in they pushed back.
As they made it to their next camp, the orders were for the men of
Wurttemberg to march towards Silesia to the siege of Silderberg. The siege
at Glatz would then begin shortly after. In this siege several surprise attacks
were undertaken against the men fighting in the Grande Armee. The
Prussians again lose. Two weeks later the Grande Armee undertook the town
and fortress. According to Walter A breastwork facing us was mounted, and
under a rain of large and small bullets the Prussians a long with their women,
and children were stabbed, and shot to death, and some were hurled alive,
together with their horses and cannon, over the sides of the walls. After
returning to camp the men searched for their friends and Walter searched for
his brother in hopes that he was still alive. They found each other both
unharmed. The next attack was announced to happen the following evening
if the fortress would not be turned over. Peace was made and the battle
would not take place. Walter would return home.
After returning home from the Prussia Campaign Jakob was working on
various trades. It was in 1809 that he would be drafted again into the
Grande Armee to serve in the war against Austria. Walter and his comrades
traveled from village to village. He speaks about staying in others homes
and drinking Tyrolean wine. Because the men spent too much time stealing
and drinking a strict order was put in to make an end of it. He then talks

about a family and their child hat he stayed with for a few weeks. The army
then travels again towards home. They stayed in Biberach for a period of
time. Walter was assigned to a village of peasants. He stayed in the home
of a nun where he lied and told her he was a monk. According to Walter And
they took a liking for me above all the other soldiers, so much so that the old
father wept tears. They would ask Walter to please keep them informed of
his future fate.
In January 1812, Walter was recalled to join in the Grande Armees
fight against Russia. As the army marched through the towns they were fed
and drank well. Eventually hardships would find the soldiers hungry and
cold. Men begun to shoot themselves because of the hardships becoming.
The men eventually came to the Memel River just on the border of Russia
where they would rest. They would wait until bridges could be made to cross
the river. According to Walter, On June 25th the army went over the bridges.
We now believed that, once in Russia, we need do nothing but forage
which, however, proved to be an illusion.

The towns and villages had all

been stripped out. There was nothing left to forage. They would beat hogs
with clubs in order to get food. The hunger was so strong the men would eat
the meat raw. The men would march for days, starving and cold, unable to
dry from wetness. Huddling for body warmth was all that kept the men from
freezing to death. The men dug holes in the dirt about three feet deep in
order to collect water. According to Walter The water was very warm,
however, and was reddish-brown with millions of little red worms so that it

had to be bound in linen and sucked through the mouth. Many men as they
marched would fall over and die. They forced themselves to drink the water
from ditches where dead men and horses lay. The Armee would continue to
march, stopping in villages to collect supplies and food as they went. The
Armee stormed against two suburbs. The men injured had legs and arms
amputated. Walter reports It all looked just like a slaughter house. The
suburbs were basically destroyed.
On August 19, the army moved forward in full speed against the
Russians. Another battle would break out, but easily won. According to
Walter We saw ten dead Russians to one of our men, although every day our
numbers fell off considerably.
On September 7, the signal to attack was given. The men of both
armies moved hard and quickly against each other. The cries from men
could be heard from all around. The Russians were stormed upon, and
threatened. They finally gave in. According to Walter Within a space an
hour and a half long and wide, the ground was covered with people and
animals. There were groans and whines on all sides. The army moved
along and traveled still towards Moscow. It began to snow. You couldnt walk
fifty feet without walking over a dead man. The many cities they passed
were burned down, no food or supplies could be got.
On November 12, Walter arrived in Smolensk. Here he settled and the
Army would camp for a few days. The rumor was a battle would take place

here. They could also reload on supplies. The reports were not true. So
they shot there horses in order to eat. According to Walter Because I could
not even get a piece of meat and my hunger became too violent, I took along
the pot I carried, stationed myself beside a horse that was being shot, and
caught up the blood from its breast. I set this blood on fire, let it coagulate,
and ate the lumps without salt. The Grande Armee did much marching
through villages and much war throughout. After the war and returning
home the conditions didnt get much better for the soldiers. The winter froze
and killed many men. This war devastated the French Army leaving them at
a huge loss of men.
Though there are several diaries from the men who served in these
wars, Jakob Walter was not an officer but a man who was drafted to fight for
a country in which was not even his. He receives much credit for the detail
and hard work put into this diary. According to Walter The Grande Armee
started with about 650,000 men. Only 25,000 made it back home. Walter
was one of the few to ever return home. These battles almost seemed
pointless when you look at what a loss it was. Thousands upon thousands of
lives lost.

Works Cited

Sunstrom, Ludvig. "Jakob Walter - Badass Extraordinare

StartGainingMomentum."StartGainingMomentum. N.p., 28 May 2013. Web.
23 June 2016.
Walter, Jakob, and Marc Raeff. The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier. New York:
Doubleday, 1991. Print.