Captaine Coignet's Escape (6)


1812 Invasion of Russia
French Command Structure
Russian Command Structure

On the Road with the Grande Armee
Map of the first stages of the Great Retreat

Map of the last stages of the Great Retreat
Jean-Roch Coignet's Description of the Retreat
Coignet's Brush With Cossacks

I sent at once for a doctor and a bootmaker to examine my left foot, which had been frozen. I had to consult the doctor, so as to have a boot made. It was decided to have one made lined with rabbit skin and to leave my foot a prisoner in it, after having cut my boot open to dress my foot.

"Make the boot tonight," said I. "I will pay you 20 francs."

"Tomorrow, at eight o'clock, you shall have it." So then I kept my boots on.

The next day the doctor and bootmaker came; the former cut open my boot, and there was my foot, looking like a new-born baby's - no nails, no skin, but in a perfect condition.

"Your foot is saved," said the doctor. He had the host and his wife called up.

"Come," said he, "and see a chicken's foot. I must have some linen to wrap it up."

They gave me very willingly some fine, white linen. My foot was put into my boot, and laced up. I asked the doctor how much I owed him.

"I am paid," said he. "This service is free."


"No buts, if you please." I held out my hand to him. "I will tell you," said he, "how to make it well. Your foot will be very sensitive to heat and cold; do not expose it to the air; let it remain a long time just as it is, but when the season for strawberries comes, take and mash up a plateful of them, at least two or three pounds, and make a compress, and bind it to your foot. Continue to do this during the strawberry season, and you will never feel any pain."

"Thank you, doctor. And for you, Master Cobbler, here are 20 francs."

"Not so," said he. "My expenses only, if you please."

"How much?"

"Ten francs."

"Why, you two have conspired together."

"Well," said two of my comrades, "let us have a rum punch."

"No," said they, "time is precious, we must return. Farewell, brave Frenchman."

I followed the physician's directions, and have never felt any inconvenience from my injury; but it cost me 12 francs' worth of strawberries.

I went to the palace to take Count Monthyon's orders; there I found Prince Eugene and Prince Bertbier. Count Monthyon said to the minister of war, "I wish to have transport-officer Contant for my aide-de-camp, and to have his place filled by Lieutenant Coignet; he is a good business man. I need him to rid the army of all the vehicles which are needless and in the way."

The minister immediately appointed me transport officer at headquarters, December 28, 1812.

I was no longer afraid of being posted to the line. We remained at Koenigsberg a few days to reunite all the remnants of that grand army, now reduced to a small corps. We started on the march to Berlin, which had to be promptly evacuated so as to fall back upon Magdeburg.

- From the Notebooks of Captain Coignet

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