By Sh. D. Borker
In the years of Napoleon's great crusade toward Moscow, Pruzhany played an important role due to diverse reasons. Just prior to the year 1812[i] when Napoleon's great army was concentrated at the outskirts of Russia’s western border, which was fortified with three armies. One was concentrated in Vineyard-Kovno district, the second in Grodno and the third in Volinia. The central general barracks of the second army was in Pruzhany during a most of the time, and, afterwards, was transferred to Volkovysk.
War operations began in June and, due to superiority of the French military forces, the first aggression point the area around Kovno was chosen, and this forced the first two Russian forces to retreat from their positions and to come closer to the Northeast. Together with second army, the sixth corps that had its permanent seat in Pruzhany, also retreated
When the first two armies retreated, the army that was seated in Volinia under the control of general Tomashov was isolated in this Southern place. To guard against any assault on the army's right wing, Napoleón designated an army constituted by the Austrians, under the control of Shwartzenberg. These armies fortified their troops in the district of Grodno, and the central general barracks were installed in Pruzhany. The army’s vanguard extended from Muchawietz with its forward position toward the Russian third army. In the same month of July the situation changed. Instead of Shwartzenberg, Napoleón designated Marshal Reinié as Major since this army was already Prussian. The new commandant no longer fixed his central general barracks in Pruzhany.
By this time, commandant of third Russian army began an attack against the military forces of Reinié, making sure that the central general barracks continued to be in Pruzhany. Their war operative plan was the following: three divisions were sent to eject enemy forces from several places, so they were good as a support point for general barrack security. The plan was achieved and, thanks to the confused situation, Russia took a great quantity of prisoners from the Prussian army, and they went toward Pruzhany.
By this time, some of the French army was able to join Shwartzenberg's vanguard division, which they called to collaborate, and both together forced the retreat of the Russian army’s vanguard that was installed in Pruzhany. In the first days of August the Prussian army again occupied Pruzhany.
After this battle was carried out near Horodetz and in the village of Podovno (Podopny), the Russians retreated toward Volinia.
After the defeats suffered by Napoleón's army near Moscow, the third army was reinforced, and was able to expel the remaining Prussian forces. By October, the Russian army occupied the entire area.
We mention two documents of that time. One of them constitutes a report about a combat in Pruzhany, and the second is an order on the occupation of Russian military force. The report was sent later to the Austrian-Prussian vanguard commanded by Reinie - Shwartzenberg, who liberated the retreat path through Pruzhany
... On the night of November 7/8, 1812, the third regiment of Ukrainian Cossacks, under commandant Graff Vits, was expelled from Brest-Litovsk and retreated toward Pruzhany. Suddenly this city was attacked and totally destroyed by the Austrian vanguard. Three squadrons of the regiment were taken prisoners and the other ones dispersed and went to Kobrin..."
... Order to third army: from September 20 to 29, the army should settle down in the city of Pruzhany and to try to evict the enemy from Neshvizsh until Pinsk...."
According to material that Lachnitzky gave us in his book, Statistic of Grodno District during 1817, there were in Pruzhany in that time, 245 wooden houses and a population of 824 souls. Of them, 374 were Jews. The quantity of houses at the beginning of the XIX century could have been very small due to the great fire that out broke out in Pruzhany during 1801. These numbers are in doubt when compared with those that appear in "Brest Economy" that shows the population's strong decrease. It is unknown how much our city suffered during the march of the different armies. Anyway, it is not possible that this great number of souls died or would have abandoned the city. In Life Book we do not find a great number of deceases during that time.
A characteristic case happened during that time. During the march of Napoleon's military forces through Pruzhany, a Jew of Alsace, Ytzhak who was a soldier of the army of Napoleon, hid in a Bet Medresh (place of religious studies), sat down to study and waited until the part of army to which he belonged continued on it's way. Jews helped this man from falling into the Russian army’s hands; they married him; and he became a normal Pruzhany inhabitant. Years later his case was still remembered and, the nickname, The-French, was added to his true name.
[i] D. Butirlin, "Nashetzvia Imperatora Napoleona na Razió History" - 1812; A. I. Michalovksy Danilewsky "Ofizanie Voini"1812.