Bivouacked near the Neiman River – Letters from Russia, Part 7
November 28, 2006
June 24, 1812
Bivouacked near the Neiman River, border of Prussia and Russia
Mon Sweet Genevieve,
At last I have a chance to drop you a note which will have a chance to find you. I am fortunate in that I am able to gain a few favors for delivery that would be unavailable to most. The news does seem to travel fast in general. Indeed, a lame horseman can travel faster than this huge mass of humanity. We have met with the rest of the Army and Napoleon himself has arrived. He ensures everyone know that he is here & here to lead. He rides the ranks as we camp making final preparations to go into Russia.
Once we cross the Neiman into Russia, I expect the day-to-day of traveling and repairing boots will change, I just don’t know how. Though this is the military, I don’t carry a gun despite teasing from Maurice, Eugenio and the others.
Honestly, I think they (the guns) are more for a show of power and makes them feel that they are in-stead with the other fighting men despite that we are in a non-combative role. “Self preservation,” they said, but honestly I just am not sure we would have the presence of mind to shoot another even under the direst of circumstances. Could I look in someone’s eyes as his fears flash through and pull a trigger to implant a hard orb of metal into his being with the aim of finality to his existence? But, is his life more important than my own?
In reality, I hope that I can avoid such circumstances, as well as staying out of harms way in general. I can also hope that diplomacy can carry the day and we return across this River with nary a shot fired. I cannot honestly say I expect such a simple resolution. Now you’ll pardon my treasonous speech for a moment but … while fixing boots for some General of such and such, … he was discussing the Treaty at Tilsit signed by N. and Czar Alexander last year.
Of course, when France heard the news of Russia’s concessions, we thought it had been inevitable and even our privilege to bring our Empire to them by their compromise. We lauded N. as ‘great’ and ‘brilliant’ for the advantages he took. But, in listening to the General recount this event, I thought about the Russians and how such talks would strengthen their resolve to fight for pride, as it would ours if the role of history were reversed.
The monarch and generals agitate one another to frenzy then, send in innocent pawns as food for a hungry bear or lion. I applaud the role of diplomacy to resolve disputes but such negotiations must not take advantage of a simpler, or daresay less sophisticated thinker. If you are espousing a virtuous and honest republic where equality reigns, you must start at the highest levels.
We must espouse a virtuous republic where honesty and virtue is held higher than expansionist desires, or even the love of one’s country and the pride of culture. A republic where administrative efficiency trumps royal excess where we have both the right to own land and a responsibility to pay debts.
For my part, I attempt to undertake my daily affairs in a fair and honest manner, giving my entire effort into all I do, despite the humbleness of my tasks.