1812: Moscow Column that never happened. Allegedly...

I happened to stumble upon an interesting 1813 publication, and wanted to share it with the blog readers. It's about a column made of French cannons seized during the war of 1812. Russians were planning on erecting this column in 1813 in Moscow. According to what we know, this project did not come to fruition, but... can we really be sure that it did not?


Tow Princes and Two Pillars
Bonaparte's audacious invasion of the empire of the Czars, its disgraceful and destructive failure, and the fatal shock to his sway immediately resulting from it, are events of such momentous historical celebrity, that tradition alone will unquestionably hand down their remembrance to our latest posterity, without any additional memorial in aid of their perpetuation. Yet, while the fact stands indelibly recorded in blood, its leading features may need positive commemoration; and that, too, has been provided for in more than one banner, not only by the triumphant, but, oddly enough, even by the disgraced party.

The Princes
The immortal veteran Kutusow, after delivering his country from the innumerable host of civilized barbarians that had insulted its soil, and after wielding with terrible hand the fatal scourge of divine vengeance, was, by his grateful monarch, created Prince of Smolensko; because at Smolensko his sword passed deadly muster on the famished wrecks of the hostile legions.

The fugitive General Ney, after accompanying Napoleon to Moskwa, and (somewhat faster than he had come) back again to Smolensko, where he abandoned his corps of walking skeletons to the fury of Russian bayonets, or to bondage, was, by his infatuated monarch, created PRINCE OF MOSKWA; cause ....... (one cannot tell so well) .... no doubt, because, thanks to his horse, he had the good fortune to escape with a frost-bitten pose to the Berezyna.

So much for both sides of our commemoration - account by means of rank. Inasmuch, however, as (granting even to both parties a perpetuity of lineage), the duration of the princely title in one or the other, might, by some desponding genealogists, be deemed a subject of greater doubt , we feel pleasure in having it in our power to work with somewhat more solid materials.

The Pillars
In their promenade to Russia, the French were, according to an official return since published, accompanied by 1195 pieces of brass ordnance: of these, a considerable number was, rather reluctantly, ceded by them to the Russians, against value received; and a much greater proportion was dropped, en passant, between Moskwa and the Niemen; so that, according to another official return, 1131 remained in Russian possession on Christmas eve, 1812. The use to be made of this massy relic of the French invasion, is pointed out by an imperial decree of the Emperor Alexander. The captured cannons are to be employed in the construction of a colossal pillar, to be erected , in the first instance, in the city of Moskwa; and next - as there will be more than enough for two - of a similar one which is to adorn St. Petersburg, the other capital of the Russian empire.

The French have, for ages, been remarkable for dictating in fashion, and leaving other nations to copy their inventive ingenuities. But, among the strange changes which the Russian campaign has worked in them, and is still likely to produce, the adoption of a reverse course, in some fashions at least is not the least worthy of our curiosity. As soon as that campaign had produced a Russian prince, Napoleon thought he might as well have one of his own make; and be no sooner heard of the Moskwa pillar, than he determined (in a solemn imperial decree too !) to order one on his behalf. Whether this proceeded from some profound political motives, or from a persuasion, that, when the laugh is against you, it is best to join in it, we will not presume to decide; nor is it in our power to anticipate whether this decree, bearing date the 3d of May last, from the field of battle of Lützen, is one of those paper decrees of his comprehensive mind, the execution of which remains confined to his vast comprehension alone. We will take his word, that he expects to have a pillar of his own one of these days, and as much à la Russe as circumstances will permit; for we must allow for difference of materials and of locality. To construct it of brass ordnance would seem rather difficult except it were with his own; and in that article too, his stores, after the Vittoria sweep, and the Katzbach and Dennewitz averages, may not be supposed quite so flush as to permit of architectural appropriation. Hence it has been wisely determined to let the Gallic Moskwa pillar be of good homely French stone, one of the few articles that have not become scarcer in France since the reign of Napoleon.

As to locality, some of our readers will, perhaps, expect, that, in imitation of the Russian Alexander, Bonaparte has fixed upon the capital of his empire, upon his good city of Paris, as the fittest place for so important a monument. - They are far from the mark ! - Napoleon's thoughts soar much higher! - The very tip of
Mount Cenis has been selected as the most appropriate spot; in order, as the decree states, that his French as well as his Italian subjects may behold that memorial of the famous Russian campaign. To our limited faculties, we confess, this situation at first appeared rather extraordinary: Mount Cenis, if we recollect rightly, boasts of an elevation of about 12,000 feet; a height at which the said pillar would be pretty nearly as visible as a candlestick on the top of Bow church leaving atmospherical impediments out of the account. But if we further consider, that the summit of this mountain is almost all the year round enveloped in clouds, the good people of France and of Italy appear to us scarcely to have the chance of a peep at the pillar above the clouds! - But what of that? - He that has fought battles above the clouds, surely may please his fancy in having a monument in such exalted regions, be it even a monument not made to be seen, like razors not made to shave.

Of this invisible pillar, the editor of the Repository made no small exertions to procure a plan, for the gratification of his readers. His enquiries, however, have proved utterly abortive. Nobody on the Continent knows any thing about it, except the decree which orders its erection: no preparations are made, no funds provided; all which seems to give strength to the supposition of its being, thus far at least, a mere paper effusion of Napoleon imagination.

The case stands otherwise with Alexander's column: the preparations for its erection are in great forwardness; the plan of the monument has been given in by the artist charged with the structure, and finally approved of by the Russian government. Through the kindness of Mr. Bennett, of Lloyd's Coffee house, we are enabled to present our readers with a correct drawing of the column, received from St. Petersburg, and with a brief description of its component parts and principal proportions.

The cannons, as will easily be perceived, are placed vertically beside each other, in eight distinct tiers; those of the heaviest calibre stand lowest, and thus the size of
every range diminishes as it rises towards the top, where cannon of the smallest size are employed. А ring of Russian marble forms the separation between each tier. The two circular ranges, one at top and the other at bottom, are composed of mortars and howitzers horizontally placed, so as to present the mouths towards the exterior surface. In imitation of the Roman rostral column, two cannons with brass wheels project from each tier in alternate situations; these we see in the drawing, sideways in one tier, and facing the eye in the next above it. The diameter of the lower circular range of mortars and howitzers, is quoted at 17, the horizontal sides of the granite square forming the plinth, at 28, and the whole height of the column at 84 feet. We are not informed whether the interior of this structure is solid, or whether there be a hollow space throughout, to be filled up with the myriads of skulls and bones which point out the track of the French retreat. At the summit is placed the Russian eagle, grasping in his talons a globe (this, we hope, is rather ornamental than symbolical!) and holding in his beak a serpent convoluted into a ring, the emblem of eternity, in the most obvious and common sense; yet, perhaps, at the same time allusive to the conquest of a foe, whose insidious and envenomed friend ship had nearly brought ruin upon the Russian nation. At the bottom of the pillar are placed the French eagles. This, no doubt, is their fit place, although we cannot help thinking, that their attitude is mightily erect and fierce; they did not look quite so prim at
Molodeshno! - We would have turned them on their backs, with their heads hid under the wings like geese (never mind the artistical effect!) For this oversight, however, the Russian artist has made ample amends, by representing these imperial birds - not "covered with glory” - but covered with chains; an incomparable idea! which combines picturesque effect with historical truth, with moral lesson, and, perhaps, with an anticipation of the future doom of the proprietor of the Napoleon menagerie.

We have not learnt in what quarter of the city of Moskwa this column is intended to be erected. No situation would, in our opinion, be more eligible than the Kremlin, which, during Bonaparte's short stay, was his headquarters; and which, from its elevation, would exbibit the monument, not only to the citizens of that capital, but to the inhabitants of the surrounding country to a great extent. As it is stated that the French prisoners are now compelled to work at the re-edification of the city, we make no doubt but their cooperation in the erection of this pillar will like wise be “put in requisition.” Cruel as the task may appear, the punishment is no more than what an outraged country is warranted in inflicting on the remains of a presumptuous and lawless horde of invaders.

G. L. E.

I find this article rather interesting, because officially these particular two cannon columns (Moscow and Saint Petersburg) were never built. At least, I was unable to find any
narrative based information about their existence. But... looking for additional details, I ran into this image. In both, Dutch and French languages, it appears to say that the column was erected in Moscow.
  • Zuil te Moskou, Christian Anthony Lotter, 1814
  • Column in Moscow, Christian Anthony Lotter, 1814


Sounds like this image was published by F. J. Weygand in Hague in the beginning of the 19th century. They say, the etching itself was produced by a certain Christian Anthony Lotter (whoever that was...).


As you can see, in color this column could look something like this.
  • Column ercted in Moscow of artillery pieces captured from the French, surmounted by a double-headed eagle. on a square base with an eagle at each corner; a human figure, seated, by the base.
  • Etching, hand-coloured

Additionally, the article was talking about some column Napoleon ordered to be built on top of Mount Cenis. We do not appear to have any information about this column either. But... we do have the below coin. It sure does not look like a column, but it's a monument on top of Mount Cenis. What monument?
Considering where Mount Cenis is located... what was the point of building it there?


Do we have any columns made of cannons in Russia? Apparently we do have one, but it had to be constructed twice (1886 and 2004).

The Column of Glory
The Column of Glory is a victory memorial situated in the immediate surroundings of the Trinity Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Completed in 2004 as a gift at the 300th anniversary of the city in 2003, the monument is an exact replica of a monument from 1886 that was destroyed by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1929.
  • In honor of the victory in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878, when the Russians liberated Bulgaria from a Turkish invasion, a memorial column was constructed in 1886 in front of the northern facade of the Trinity Cathedral. Its foundation was 140 trophy cannon barrels used to beat back the Turks during the liberation of Bulgaria. The monument stood eight meters high, and was crowned with the winged figure of victory with a wreath made of oak leaves in one hand and palm branches in the other. An iron spiral staircase was located inside. Ten cannons surrounded the outside of the monument. In 1929, the monument was dismantled and sold by the Soviet Government to Germany for cash.
  • In 2004 the monument was restored using the original blueprints of the project. The foundation of the column is built out of exact replicas of 128 Turkish cannons cast by the Novolipetsk Steel company. The cannons and other metal parts of the column were given to Saint Petersburg as a gift to its 300th anniversary.
  • Column of Glory


I do not know if all these cannon columns are somehow related to each other, but coincidences like this should always be paid attention to, IMHO.

Unknown Napoleon columns (or thrones) on top of Mount Cenis, non-existent erected columns in Moscow... I'm not going to spend the rest of my life trying to figure this one out. I just wish that our historians were investigating our true history, instead of looking for this.

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