Dead from Napoleon’s army found in Poland
Archaeologists in Poland say they have uncovered the bodies of soldiers believed to have been part of Napoleon’s doomed invasion of Moscow.
The remains were among those of some 350 individuals discovered in a forgotten graveyard, found after woodlands were cut back to create a new bypass at Olecko, in the far northeastern part of the country, according to the Polish Press Agency.
“Analysis of the bones of several men buried there shows changes characteristic of people who rode on horseback for much of their lives,” archaeologist Hubert Augustyniak told the Polish Press Agency.
Some 400,000 troops serving in Napoleon’s Grande Armée – many of them Poles hoping for the rebirth of their country – are estimated to have died during Napoleon’s Moscow campaign.
In June 1812 Napoleon and an army of 500,000 crossed the river Neman, near the Baltic Sea, with the goal of compelling Tsar Alexander I of Russia to remain in the Continental Blockade of the United Kingdom, and an underlying aim of keeping Russia from invading Poland.
Napoleon moved across Russia, winning a number of battles, including the massive Battle of Borodino in September 1812 near Moscow. Despite the victory, the French failed to finish off the Russian army, which retreated, and Napoleon and his men entered Moscow.
After months of fruitless negotiations between Napoleon and the Russian Tsar, and with Napoleon unable to replace his losses, he began his ill-fated retreat from Moscow.
Between the onset of the Russian Winter, the lack of supplies, and attacks by partisans and irregular troops, the French forces were ultimately decimated.
When the remnants of Napoleon’s army crossed the Berezina River in what is now Belarus in November, only 27,000 fit soldiers remained.
About half of the bodies near the newly discovered burial site at Olecko were those of children, and experts believe that they were from the local village, the Polish Press Agency reported.
Tests confirm that the villagers suffered from a poor diet and were exposed to hard labor.
Several coins minted between the years 1710 and 1842 were also found at the site, as well as some jewelry and an iron cross. It is believed that the soldiers’ uniforms had been stolen before burial.