VILNIUS, Lithuania – The skeletons of 18 of Napoleon's soldiers were laid to rest Monday in Lithuania — 200 years after the French emperor tried in vain to invade Russia.
Lithuanian deputy Defense Minister Vytautas Umbrasas said Napoleon's troops were finally "buried properly" at a solemn ceremony in Vilnius also attended by French Ambassador Francois Laumonier.
The remains of the soldiers were discovered last year by road builders outside the Lithuanian capital. Experts said the soldiers were members of the infantry, hussar and dragoon units that retreated from Russia in one of history's most catastrophic military campaigns.
The new graves were added to around 2,000 others found eight years ago during excavations in Vilnius. Studies have helped explain how soldiers in Napoleon's Grand Army perished with only a few thousand French troops surviving the war.
When Napoleon's 500,000-strong army marched into Lithuania — then part of czarist Russia — in 1812, it was one of the largest forces ever assembled at the time.
However, six months later only 40,000 men returned to Vilnius as harsh weather, disease and starvation took their toll. Russian Cossacks also carried out harrying attacks on Napoleon's retreating troops, compounding casualties.
After reoccupying Vilnus, Russian forces were unable to dig graves in the frozen ground, forcing them to throw thousands of bodies into defensive trenches dug earlier by the French.