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For over 200 years, General Charles Gudin has been buried somewhere in present-day Smolensk, Russia after dying on the battlefield in 1812 during Napoleon Bonaparte’s disastrous campaign there. Now, researchers believe they have finally found his remains.
Charles-Étienne César Gudin de La Sablonnière was born to an aristocratic family in 1768. After attending military school he rose through the ranks of the French military and became a top commander who served in multiple battles throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic War campaigns, even getting injured a time or two in the process.
Most notably, Gudin personally knew Napoleon as they both attended school together in childhood. As such, he was one of Napoleon’s favorite commanders, which is why when a cannonball struck Gudin in the leg and killed him at the Battle of Valutino in 1812, his heart was cut from his body and transported back to Paris where it is interred in the chapel at Pere Lachaise cemetery.
In this way, Gudin’s heart would always be in France even if the rest of his body could not be.
The body was placed in a wooden coffin and buried, never to be seen again. That is, until the researchers found it while excavating a location at a park in Smolensk.
It turns out that the grave had been under the foundation of a dance floor for many years, which means people were literally dancing on Gudin’s grave all these years, albeit unknowingly.
The two teams believe they have found Gudin because his injuries from the cannonball match the injuries on the corpse, with a leg left missing and damage on the right leg, the exact injuries Gudin sustained from the blow. His leg needed to be amputated as a result.
Needless to say, both teams are really excited about what they found.
“It’s a historic moment not only for me but for I think for our two countries,” lead archaeologist Pierre Malinovsky said according to Reuters.
“The digging took a while, we were looking for the remains of French general Gudin, one of Napoleon’s closest allies,” Maria Katasonova, vice chair of the foundation on Russian-French historical projects, told Sputnik. “He was mortally wounded at a battle of Valutino and, according to various sources in Russia and in France, he was buried right here. And now we have found the remains that are very likely to be those of general Gudin, based on some indirect indications.”
Gudin would also be the first Napoleonic general the teams have found thus far.
“Napoleon was one of the last people to see him alive which is very important, and he’s the first general from the Napoleonic period that we have found,” Malinovsky said.
Alas, the only way they can really conclusively say that the corpse is Gudin is by performing a DNA test.
“It’s possible that we’ll have to identify the remains with the aid of a DNA test which could take from several months to a year,” the Russian military-historical society said. “The general’s descendants are following the news.”
Katasonova says that one descendant is currently on the way to Moscow to provide a DNA sample, but the wounds definitely give the teams confidence.
“The general had exactly this kind of wound, and that is why he died,” she said. “But, of course, we can state something with 100 percent certainty only after the DNA test. There is a direct descendant of general Gudin, who may provide a sample for analysis, he has already agreed to come to Moscow.”
If the DNA confirms the corpse is Gudin, he will be returned to France for a proper ceremony 207 years after his heart made the same journey home. The remains might even travel down the Paris street that bears his name. Regardless, Gudin will be welcomed home as a hero who fought for France at one of the country’s darkest times and during triumphant times. His life was tragically cut short at the age of 44 in a campaign that is now considered folly by historians.
Napoleon’s foray into Russia is one of the greatest and costliest military blunders in history. It perfectly demonstrates that fighting in Russia in the winter is a bad idea, something Adolf Hitler would learn nearly 150 later during World War II. Not long after his defeat there, his Grande Armée in ruins, Napoleon would be exiled for the first time after Allied forces captured Paris in 1814.
Of course, Napoleon would return from exile and begin a new campaign that lasted 100 days until his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, after which he would be exiled until his death in 1821. Napoleon had wanted to be buried on the banks of the Seine river, but the British denied his request and ordered him buried at St. Helena, the island where he died in exile.
However, Napoleon’s body would be returned to France in 1840 for proper interment at the Esplanade des Invalides, where it lies entombed to this day.
The final journey to his resting place included a procession that began at the Arc de Triomphe, where Gudin’s name is inscribed.
See what the researchers found below:
Featured Image: Wikimedia