Skeleton find in Russia may be Napoleonic general

The supposed remains of French General Charles Etienne Gudin de la Sablonniere in Smolensk, Russia, 7 July 2019Image copyright
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The one-legged skeleton is said to belong to a man who died aged 40-45

Archaeologists are set to reveal whether a one-legged skeleton found under a dance floor in Russia solves a centuries-old mystery involving Napoleon’s favourite general.

Charles-√Čtienne Gudin died aged 44 after he was hit by a cannonball during the French invasion of Russia in 1812.

He had to have his leg amputated and died three days later from gangrene.

The DNA results of a skeleton unearthed in the city of Smolensk, west of Moscow, will be announced on Thursday.

A team of Russian and French archaeologists found the skeleton in a wooden coffin in a park beneath building foundations in July.

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Archaeologists at a site of Gudin’s supposed burial place in Smolensk, Russia

The remains, they said, displayed injuries consistent with those sustained by Gudin, a veteran of both the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

At the time of his death, the French army removed Gudin’s heart and buried it in Paris, but the whereabouts of his skeleton remained unknown.

“As soon as I saw the skeleton with just one leg, I knew that we had our man,” the head of the archaeological team, Marina Nesterova, told AFP news agency.

A preliminary report concluded that the skeleton belonged to a man aged between 40 and 45 at the time of his death.

The latest search for Gudin’s remains began in May and is being led by Pierre Malinowski, a historian with support from the Kremlin.

Researchers used the memoirs of Louis-Nicolas Davout, another French general of the Napoleonic era, who organised Gudin’s funeral and described the location. They then followed another witness account, which directed them to the coffin.

Gudin, who died on 22 August 1812, attended the same military school as Napoleon Bonaparte and is believed to have been one of the French emperor’s favourite generals.

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Charles-√Čtienne Gudin was thought to be one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s favourite generals

A bust of his likeness resides in the Palace of Versailles, his name is inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris and he also has a street in the French capital named after him.

Napoleon’s invasion of Russia ended in a disastrous retreat from Moscow in 1812.

His Grande Armee of 400,000 men was thought to be unbeatable and he himself had anticipated a rapid victory.

But having initially captured Moscow after the Russian army withdrew during a harsh winter, the emperor then realised he too had to turn back.

In a letter in which he vowed to blow up the Kremlin, Napoleon exposed his frustration at the campaign, with his army ravaged by disease, cold and hunger: “My cavalry is in tatters, a lot of horses are dying.”

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