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September 30 1812: News of a Desperate War

On September 30, 1812, John Quincy Adams writes a long entry that contains information about the desperate war between Russia and France.  Adams writes:
I had some further conversation with Mr. Laval. He says there are dreadful accounts of the burning of Moscow since the French entered it. There were two attempts made to burn the houses next to that in which he (Napoleon) had taken his quarters, in consequence of which his troops set fire to the city in many places at once, and it is feared that the whole city may be destroyed. The Emperor Alexander, since the loss of Moscow, has said publicly at his own table, "II n'y a qu'un coquin qui puisse prononcer actuellement le mot de paix." His spirit stiffens with adversity. The situation of the French army in the midst of their triumphs is considered as absolutely desperate; it is supposed that Napoleon wishes to negotiate, and this is the strongest reason for the determination not to negotiate here. But the Emperor Alexander is not satisfied with the conduct of his Generals, nor pleased that he made Koutouzof a Field Marshal and gave him one hundred thousand rubles for a victory the immediate result of which was the loss of Moscow.... The time of real danger to the invader is now but just commencing, and it is a species of warfare to which Napoleon is not accustomed, and for which he may not be prepared. If, however, the system is good for the old Russian provinces, it is far more questionable for the recovery of Courland and of Poland".
The complete entry is reproduced below.


30th. I called at one this afternoon upon Mr. Laval. I found Mr. Harris there. Madame de Laval talked much about going to England. I saw the pictures, and the remainder of the statues and busts, all of which were packing up. The Claude is called a ''Cascade of Tivoli," and is a fine picture. It is difficult to admire with sufficient fervency the last purchased picture of Mr. or Madame de Laval. Their ecstasies are more moderate whenever a new purchase concentrates them upon itself I have witnessed a succession of these favorites since my acquaintance at the house, and have seen the reign of six or seven of them superseded in turn by a new-comer.  Buttheir owners can never endure a critique or even a suggestion of an imperfection in any of them. This Claude is of a size to require a carriage for itself, and is to travel with them through Finland and Sweden. 



I had some further conversation with Mr. Laval. He says there are dreadful accounts of the burning of Moscow since the French entered it. There were two attempts made to burn the houses next to that in which he (Napoleon) had taken his quarters, in consequence of which his troops set fire to the city in many places at once, and it is feared that the whole city may be destroyed. The Emperor Alexander, since the loss of Moscow, has said publicly at his own table, "II n'y a qu'un coquin qui puisse prononcer actuellement le mot de paix." His spirit stiffens with adversity. The situation of the French army in the midst of their triumphs is considered as absolutely desperate; it is supposed that Napoleon wishes to negotiate, and this is the strongest reason for the determination not to negotiate here. But the Emperor Alexander is not satisfied with the conduct of his Generals, nor pleased that he made Koutouzof a Field Marshal and gave him one hundred thousand roubles for a victory the immediate result of which was the loss of Moscow. Koutouzof says in his last report that in the council of war, by advice of which he abandoned Moscow, some of the principal Generals were of a different opinion. There were three, Benningsen, Konovnizyn, and Doktoroff, for fighting another battle. Benningsen has written that until and in cluding the battle of Borodino, his advice was followed in everything — since then, not at all. The defensive and Fabian system is certainly painful and costly in its operation, and may perhaps not be calculated for a country situated like Russia. But it has not yet had its full trial. The time of real danger to the invader is now but just commencing, and it is a species of warfare to which Napoleon is not accustomed, and for which he may not be prepared. If, however, the system is good for the old Russian provinces, it is far more questionable for the recovery of Courland and of Poland.

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