Skeleton mystery solved: One-legged remains of Napoleon’s favorite general identified

A DNA analysis has confirmed the identity of a mysterious one-legged skeleton discovered beneath a dance floor in Russia earlier this year.

As suspected, the skeleton is French general Charles-Etienne Gudin de la Sablonniere, who was struck by a cannonball during Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia in 1812.

Historian and former soldier Pierre Malinowski led French and Russian archaeologists in the search of the general’s remains, an effort that is reportedly supported by the Kremlin.

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Malinowski told France Bleu that DNA from the skeleton matches DNA taken from the remains of Gudin’s brother and mother. “DNA is 100 percent,” he said. “There is no doubt.”

A picture taken on July 7, 2019 shows the remains of French General Charles Etienne Gudin de la Sablonniere in Smolensk, Russia.

A picture taken on July 7, 2019 shows the remains of French General Charles Etienne Gudin de la Sablonniere in Smolensk, Russia. (DENIS MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)

A classmate of Napoleon from military school, Gudin is described as a favorite of the French Emperor. Gudin was critically injured during the Battle of Valutino near Smolensk on Aug. 19, 1812, according to AFP and France 24. The leg of the 44-year-old general was amputated but his wound became gangrenous and he died three days later.

The remains were discovered in July, Reuters reported earlier this year, noting that they were found beneath an outdoor dance floor in a Smolensk park.

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After his death, French troops cut Gudin’s heart from his body and brought it back to France, placing it in a chapel at Paris’ famous Pere Lachaise cemetery, according to Napoleon-monuments.eu. The general’s name is also inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe.

Archaeologists work on July 7, 2019 at a site of the burial place of French General Charles Etienne Gudin de la Sablonniere.

Archaeologists work on July 7, 2019 at a site of the burial place of French General Charles Etienne Gudin de la Sablonniere. (DENIS MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Napoleon’s gigantic “Grande Armee” began its invasion of Russia on June 24, 1812. Estimates of the army’s size range from 450,000 to 650,000 troops, according to History.com. The campaign quickly degenerated into a military disaster as retreating Russian forces employed a “scorched earth” policy that denied food and shelter to the invading army.

When Napoleon reached Moscow in September, the city, like others in his path, had already been set ablaze and the French army was forced to retreat as winter neared. Ravaged by battle, starvation, disease and the devastating Russian winter, there were only around 100,000 soldiers in Napoleon’s army when it left Russia in December 1812.

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Death of General Gudin at the Battle of Valutino. Found in the collection of the Russian State Library, Moscow.

Death of General Gudin at the Battle of Valutino. Found in the collection of the Russian State Library, Moscow. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

One of the key figures in European history, Napoleon remains a source of fascination. Last year, an extremely rare ‘bicorne,’ or two-pointed hat, that was worn by the French leader at the Battle of Waterloo was sold at auction in France for $325,000.

Earlier this year, buttons from uniforms worn by soldiers in Napoleon’s army recently uncovered in Lithuania.

The discoveries were made during an excavation at the site of the Great Synagogue of Vilna (Vilnius), which was razed during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania in World War II.

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Additionally, archaeologists recently uncovered amputated limbs from the site of a field hospital used in Waterloo.

In a separate project, the first complete Battle of Waterloo skeleton was identified in 2015 as a German soldier.

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