The Russian Campaign as Seen by a Female Russian Soldier

Fighting under the name Alexander Durov, Nadezhda Durova was the daughter of a Russian officer who dressed as a man to join the Russian army in 1806. Although it became known that she was a woman, she was allowed to serve until 1816 when she retired as a captain of the cavalry. Her memoirs were first published in 1835.


Having passed through Moscow, we stopped two or three versts farther on. The army continued its march.

For some time the ancient capital has been burning in many places! The French are completely brainless. Why should they burn our beautiful town? Or their magnificent quarters, which they have rented at such expense? Strange people! We have all watched sorrowfully as the fire has become larger and a bright glow has covered almost half the sky. The taking of Moscow has caused us some confusion. The soldiers are somehow frightened, and sometimes they blurt out: “It would have been better for us all to lie down dead here than to give up Moscow!” Of course they say this to one another quietly, and in that case an officer is not obliged to hear it.

The left flank of our regiment touches some miserable little village, in which there is no longer a single person. I asked the captain if we were to stay there long.

“Who knows?” he answered. “We have not been order[ed] to start fires, so that means we must be ready at any minute. And what's that to you?”

“This. I would like to go to the house at the edge of the village to sleep a little. My leg hurts a great deal.”

“Go ahead. Have the corporal stand by the hut with your horse. When the regiment moves, he can wake you.”

I ran straight to the house, went into the hut, and, seeing that the floor and benches were broken, could find no place better than the stove to lie on. I crawled up onto it and lay on the edge. The stove was warm, so it was clear that someone had stoked it recently. It was rather hot in the hut owing to the closed shutters. Warmth and darkness! What two blessed comforts! I fell asleep at once. I think I slept more than half an hour, because I soon awakened to the repeated exclamation, “Your honor! Your honor! The regiment has left! The enemy is in the village!!” Having awakened, I hastily arose, and while trying to support myself with my left hand, felt something damp under it. I turned to look, and as it was dark I had to lean very close to the thing on which I had rested my hand. It was a corpse, apparently a militia man. I do not know whether I would have lain on the stove if I had seen this neighbor beforehand, but it didn't occur to me to be frightened now. Such strange encounters occur in life, especially in the present war! Leaving the silent inhabitant of the hut to sleep the sleep of the never-to-awaken, I went out onto the street. The French were already in the village, and our people were firing at everyone. I hastened to mount my horse and overtook the regiment at a trot.

Source: Nadezhda Durova, The Cavalry Maid: The Memoirs of a Woman Soldier of 1812, tr. M. F. Zirin, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 150-151.