Moscow, one of the finest and richest cities in the world, is no more. On the 14th the Russians set fire to the Exchange, to the Bazar, and the Hospital. On the 16th a violent wind arose. Three or 400 ruffians set fire to the city in 500 different places at the same time, by order of the governor Rostopchin.
Five sixths of the houses were built of wood, and the fire, spread with a prodigious rapidity: it was an ocean of flame. Churches, of which there were 1600, above 1000 palaces, immense magazines [storehouses], nearly all have fallen a prey to the flames. The Kremlin has been preserved.
Their loss is incalculable for Russia, for her commerce, and for her nobility, who had left all there. It is not over-rating its value to state it at many milliards [billions].
About 100 of these incendiaries have been apprehended and shot; all of them declared that they acted under the orders of Rostopchin, and the director of the police.
Thirty thousand sick and wounded Russians have been burnt. The richest commercial houses in Russia are ruined. The shock must be considerable. The clothing, the magazines, and equipments of the Russian army have been consumed.
They have thus lost every thing; they would remove nothing, because they always thought it impossible for us to reach Moscow, and because they are willing to deceive the people. When they saw all in the hands of the French, they conceived the horrible project of destroying by fire this first capital, this holy city, the centre of the empire; and they have reduced to beggary 200,000 respectable inhabitants...
COMMENT: Fyodor Vasilyevich, Count Rostopchin (1763-1826) was Military Governor of Moscow during the French invasion of 1812. A 1911 account said that the fire destroyed 6,500 out of 9,200 private dwellings, 8,250 shops and warehouses, and 122 out of 329 churches. 12,000 bodies were found. The French Army was forced to retreat, and thanks to a combination of Russian attacks and a bitterly cold winter, lost most of its men on its way back to France (see Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” for vivid details).