The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier essay

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Jakob Walter of Wurttember did not participate in the Napoleonic invasion of Russia form free will but by being compelled. During the post-revolutionary era of France, Napoleon required vassal states that would supply troops for the areas he desired to acquire. Many young men were caught up in this fracas as Napoleon recruited new soldiers. During this time, Jakob Walter was conscripted into Napoleon’s army. Jakob was not alone, but many of his friends and age mates were also conscripted. “ In the Year 1806, I was drafted with many of my comrades into military service in the conscription at that time and was assigned to the regiment of Romig, which afterward was given the name of Franquemont and of number 4 and which was in the Ludwigsburg garrison” (Walter and Marc Raeff, 1993: 1). Jakob was recalled in 1812 as Napoleon moved his 600, 000 man troop to Russia. “In the Month of January 1812, I was recalled to the garrison of Schorndorf” (Walter and Marc Raeff, 1993: 18).

As Jakob Walter served in Napoleon’s army, the ideologies of Napoleon’ army had a significant effect on him. Modern society recognizes Napoleon as a prominent reformer and liberalizer. In some cases, he is referred to as the first truly “modern” man. The reason for this recognition is because Napoleon’s reign initiated a process of liberalization and democratization.  This formed the foundation of today’s political policies and ideologies. Napoleon’s reign helped to lay a foundation for today’s human rights. Jakob Walter, being directly involved in the wars, had a first-hand experience of the French Revolution.  The liberalization that Napoleon’s reign initiated is seen in Jakob’s experiences.

The war during Napoleon’s era had converted the minds and nature of the soldiers. Jakob gives an account of how one of his comrades wanted to force a landlord to sing, but the landlord would not sing from sorrow. The comrade used fear to intimidate the landlord, a technique that Napoleon’s soldiers embraced. “Since this man could not sing because of his sorrow, Soldier Hummel wanted to frighten him, took his rifle, cocked the hammer, and shot. The bullet passed by me and another soldier and lodged in the wall. I wanted to show how the soldiers were running wild at that time” (Walter and Marc Raeff, 1993: 2). This shows that Napoleon’s reign had converted the soldiers from humans to being animal-like. The soldiers no longer had a human heart.

The captives in Napoleon’s wars were subjected to torture. This is against human rights.  Napoleon’s quest for power could not let him think about human rights. A spy who was caught by Napoleon soldiers was seriously tortured. “A spy who was a village smith was brought before the guard house. He had letters and orders to tell the Prussians of our strength in work force. He was laid on a bench and whipped by two or three corporals” (Walter and Marc Raeff, 1993: 2).

Jakob saw inhumanity treatment of people happening just in front of him in a number of occasions. Being a German, Jakob was not loyal to Napoleon, but could not resist his orders. In his narration, he describes slavery that people were subjected to despite their poverty levels. “ First, these people still owe the noble men too much socage service  in that the baron demands a quarter-share cottager’s hired hand or son to work for him four, five, or six days weekly without wages. Likewise, he takes a daughter for six years without paying her wages just as the reigning prince takes the son for his army” (Walter and Marc Raeff, 1993: 10).

Jakob Walter’s experience in Russian campaign was full of troubles and was extremely chaotic. This does not imply that his experience in his earlier German campaigns was better, but the Russian one was extremely challenging. Food was rare, and the soldier’s hopes of survival faded. “Daily the hardships increased, and there was no hope of bread.  My colonel spoke to us once and said that we could hope for no more bread until we crossed the enemy border” (Walter and Marc Raeff, 1993: 23).

The climate in Russia at this time of war was unfavorable to the soldiers. The nights were so cold that the soldiers almost froze to death. “Bodily warmth was our only salvation from freezing to death. I had on only one pair of blue linen trousers, which I had bought at Thorn, since I had thrown away my underwear because of the former heat. ” (Walter and Marc Raeff, 1993: 24). The soldiers had to go through rivers and swamps, and this was a terrifying experience for Jakob.

The Russian opposition was a challenge to Napoleon soldiers. Jakob narrates that the Russia in some cases forced the Napoleon soldier’s to retreat. “Again and again the troops attempted assaults, but because of the greater number of the Russians we were forced back every time of the day, since their heavy artillery stood on the heights and could hit everything” (Walter and Marc Raeff, 1993: 28).

Jacob Walter was compelled to enroll in the Napoleon army. Walter was a conscript to the Napoleon army. Walter was a Germany and not French. Many of the soldiers were French. Therefore, Walter couldnot share the love of their country and nepotism with the French soldiers. Walter was also not devoted to Napoleon and never liked him a bit. Walter was also not loyal to Bonaparte because of the same reasons.  “I was a conscript in the 7th Württemberg Regiment recalled into service in January of 1812,” says Walter. At the time of the enrollment, Walter was 23.Walter had nothing to gain from the service of Napoleon. He was a German while the napoleon army was majorly French speakers. He had no attachment to the napoleons quest. His sole purpose was to survive, and go back home. Walter wrote, "I thanked the Creator that only I, and not my brother, too" had been recruited in the army. Walter was sure that if his brother had been recruited in the army, he could not have survived the retreat. Walter was happy that his brother was not forced, like himself, to join the Napoleon army.

Napoleons reign brought about process of liberalization and democratization

Napoleon is celebrated for his contribution to making the world a better place to live. During his reign, Napoleon leadership brought about liberation and democratization. The Napoleon government was liberal and gave the citizens democracy. It was during Napoleons period that people started questioning government’s projects without being prosecuted. Napoleon signed treaties with various governments to bring peace and order to their respective countries. The treaties were meant to be honored. However, Russia’s president, Tsar Alexander I had refused to honor the treaty. The war between the Russians and the Napoleon troops was meant to force Alexander to submit to the terms of the treaty they had signed four years before. Napoleon fought many governments, and forced them to change their way of leadership to enable democracy. He forced leaderships of many countries to change their tyranny rule. Napoleon changed the world’s leadership methods. However, Walter sees that in a different perspective. Walter was forced to join the army by the Napoleon leadership. He among other Germans had to leave their homes and go fight for Napoleon without their consent. Most of the French fighters had joined the army due to their passion and patriotism, unlike Walter. According to Walter, Napoleon was a dictator who was willing to go to any length to beat the rivals. Walter wrote, “Napoleon was a beast. He never gave up easily. He was determined to bring down the Russian rule under all costs” (Walter and Marc Raeff, 1993: 40). Walter was a conscript in the Russian campaign. He had been forced to join the army by Napoleon. From the start, Walter was not interested in the whole campaign. The Napoleon army composed of French soldiers, and Walter was a German. His major desire was to go back home to his family. While on the campaign, Walter had no feelings when his fellow French soldiers were killed. His main aim was to survive the campaign and go back home.

In the jungle, Walter and his fellow soldiers endured difficult times. Food became scarce and people started fighting for the available food. It got to a time that the soldiers boiled and drunk blood from the horses. People ate each other to survive. Walter states that, “it was a devastating moment to see the things soldiers were doing to survive”. Walter says that, “at some point, I thought we would not survive. I thought the Russian soldiers would take advantage of our state and finish us”. “It was winter and snow filled everywhere. Coldness was killing our soldiers slowly by slowly” recalls Walter.

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