French invasion of Russia
Overview
 
The French invasion of Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

of 1812 (also known as the Patriotic War of 1812) was a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

. It reduced the French
First French Empire
The First French Empire , also known as the Greater French Empire or Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I of France...

 and allied invasion forces (the Grande Armée) to a tiny fraction of their initial strength and triggered a major shift in European politics as it dramatically weakened French hegemony in Europe. The reputation of Napoleon I
Napoleon I
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

 as an undefeated military genius was severely shaken, while the French Empire's former allies, at first Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

, then Austria
Austrian Empire
The Austrian Empire was a modern era successor empire, which was centered on what is today's Austria and which officially lasted from 1804 to 1867. It was followed by the Empire of Austria-Hungary, whose proclamation was a diplomatic move that elevated Hungary's status within the Austrian Empire...

, broke their alliance with France and switched camps, which triggered the War of the Sixth Coalition
War of the Sixth Coalition
In the War of the Sixth Coalition , a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States finally defeated France and drove Napoleon Bonaparte into exile on Elba. After Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia, the continental powers...

.

The campaign began on 24 June 1812, when Napoleon's forces crossed the river Neman
Neman River
Neman or Niemen or Nemunas, is a major Eastern European river rising in Belarus and flowing through Lithuania before draining into the Curonian Lagoon and then into the Baltic Sea at Klaipėda. It is the northern border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast in its lower reaches...

.
Encyclopedia
The French invasion of Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

of 1812 (also known as the Patriotic War of 1812) was a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

. It reduced the French
First French Empire
The First French Empire , also known as the Greater French Empire or Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I of France...

 and allied invasion forces (the Grande Armée) to a tiny fraction of their initial strength and triggered a major shift in European politics as it dramatically weakened French hegemony in Europe. The reputation of Napoleon I
Napoleon I
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

 as an undefeated military genius was severely shaken, while the French Empire's former allies, at first Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

, then Austria
Austrian Empire
The Austrian Empire was a modern era successor empire, which was centered on what is today's Austria and which officially lasted from 1804 to 1867. It was followed by the Empire of Austria-Hungary, whose proclamation was a diplomatic move that elevated Hungary's status within the Austrian Empire...

, broke their alliance with France and switched camps, which triggered the War of the Sixth Coalition
War of the Sixth Coalition
In the War of the Sixth Coalition , a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States finally defeated France and drove Napoleon Bonaparte into exile on Elba. After Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia, the continental powers...

.

The campaign began on 24 June 1812, when Napoleon's forces crossed the river Neman
Neman River
Neman or Niemen or Nemunas, is a major Eastern European river rising in Belarus and flowing through Lithuania before draining into the Curonian Lagoon and then into the Baltic Sea at Klaipėda. It is the northern border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast in its lower reaches...

. Napoleon aimed to compel Emperor of Russia Alexander I
Alexander I of Russia
Alexander I of Russia , served as Emperor of Russia from 23 March 1801 to 1 December 1825 and the first Russian King of Poland from 1815 to 1825. He was also the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland and Lithuania....

 to remain in the Continental Blockade of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

; an official aim was to remove the threat of a Russian invasion of Poland
Duchy of Warsaw
The Duchy of Warsaw was a Polish state established by Napoleon I in 1807 from the Polish lands ceded by the Kingdom of Prussia under the terms of the Treaties of Tilsit. The duchy was held in personal union by one of Napoleon's allies, King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony...

. Napoleon named the campaign a Second Polish War; the Russian government proclaimed a Patriotic War.

Half a million strong, the Grande Armée
La Grande Armée
The Grande Armée first entered the annals of history when, in 1805, Napoleon I renamed the army that he had assembled on the French coast of the English Channel for the proposed invasion of Britain...

 marched through Western Russia, winning a number of relatively minor engagements and a major battle
Battle of Smolensk (1812)
The Battle of Smolensk, the first major battle of the French invasion of Russia took place on August 16–18, 1812, between 175,000 men of the Grande Armée under Napoleon Bonaparte and 130,000 Russians under Barclay de Tolly, though only about 50,000 and 60,000 respectively were actually engaged...

 at Smolensk
Smolensk
Smolensk is a city and the administrative center of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Dnieper River. Situated west-southwest of Moscow, this walled city was destroyed several times throughout its long history since it was on the invasion routes of both Napoleon and Hitler. Today, Smolensk...

 on August 16-18. However, on that same day, the right wing of the Russian Army, under the command of General
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 Peter Wittgenstein
Peter Wittgenstein
Ludwig Adolph Peter, Prince Wittgenstein was a Russian Field Marshal distinguished for his services in the Napoleonic wars.-Life:...

, stopped part of the French Army, led by Marshal
Marshal of France
The Marshal of France is a military distinction in contemporary France, not a military rank. It is granted to generals for exceptional achievements...

 Nicolas Oudinot
Nicolas Oudinot
Nicolas Charles Oudinot, 1st Comte Oudinot, 1st Duc de Reggio , was a Marshal of France.-Early life:...

, in the Battle of Polotsk
First battle of Polotsk
In the First battle of Polotsk, which took place on 17–18 August 1812, Russian troops under the command of Peter Wittgenstein fought French and Bavarian troops led by Nicolas Oudinot and stopped their advance to Saint Petersburg...

. This prevented the French marching on the Russian capital at Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

; the fate of the war had to be decided on the Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 front, where Napoleon himself led his forces.

While the Russians used scorched-earth tactics, and often raided the enemy with light Cossack
Cossack
Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic people who originally were members of democratic, semi-military communities in what is today Ukraine and Southern Russia inhabiting sparsely populated areas and islands in the lower Dnieper and Don basins and who played an important role in the...

 cavalry, their main army retreated for almost three months. This constant retreat undermined confidence in Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

 Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly
Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly
Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly , was a Russian Field Marshal and Minister of War during Napoleon's invasion in 1812 and War of the Sixth Coalition.-Early life:...

, leading Alexander I to appoint an old veteran, Prince
Prince
Prince is a general term for a ruler, monarch or member of a monarch's or former monarch's family, and is a hereditary title in the nobility of some European states. The feminine equivalent is a princess...

 Mikhail Kutuzov, the new Commander-in-Chief. Finally, on 7 September , the two armies met near Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 in the Battle of Borodino
Battle of Borodino
The Battle of Borodino , fought on September 7, 1812, was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the French invasion of Russia and all Napoleonic Wars, involving more than 250,000 troops and resulting in at least 70,000 casualties...

. The battle was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the Napoleonic Wars; it involved more than 250,000 troops and resulted in at least 70,000 casualties. The French captured the battlefield, but failed to destroy the Russian army. Moreover, the French could not replace their losses whereas the Russians could replace theirs.

Napoleon entered Moscow on September 14, after the Russian Army had again retreated. But by then the Russians had largely evacuated the city and even released criminals from the prisons to inconvenience the French; furthermore, the governor, Count Fyodor Rostopchin
Fyodor Rostopchin
Count Fyodor Vasilyevich Rostopchin was a Russian statesman, who served as governor of Moscow during French invasion of Russia.Rostopchin was born in Orel, son of Vasily Fyodorovich Rostopchin, Lord of Livna and ... Krakova...

, ordered the city to be burnt
Fire of Moscow (1812)
The 1812 Fire of Moscow broke out on September 14, 1812 in Moscow on the day when Russian troops and most residents abandoned the city and Napoleon's vanguard troops entered the city following the Battle of Borodino...

. Alexander I refused to capitulate and the peace talks that Napoleon initiated failed. In October, with no clear sign of victory in sight, Napoleon began his disastrous Great Retreat from Moscow.

At the Battle of Maloyaroslavets
Battle of Maloyaroslavets
The Battle of Maloyaroslavets took place on 24 October 1812, between the Russians, under Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, and part of the corps of Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon's stepson, under General Alexis Joseph Delzons which numbered about 20,000 strong.-Prelude:On 19 October, Napoleon...

 the French tried to reach Kaluga
Kaluga
Kaluga is a city and the administrative center of Kaluga Oblast, Russia, located on the Oka River southwest of Moscow. Population: It is served by Grabtsevo Airport.-History:...

, where they could find food and forage
Forage
Forage is plant material eaten by grazing livestock.Historically the term forage has meant only plants eaten by the animals directly as pasture, crop residue, or immature cereal crops, but it is also used more loosely to include similar plants cut for fodder and carried to the animals, especially...

 supplies. But the replenished Russian Army blocked the road, and Napoleon was forced to retreat the same way he had come to Moscow, through the heavily ravaged areas along the Smolensk
Smolensk
Smolensk is a city and the administrative center of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Dnieper River. Situated west-southwest of Moscow, this walled city was destroyed several times throughout its long history since it was on the invasion routes of both Napoleon and Hitler. Today, Smolensk...

 road. In the following weeks, the Grande Armée underwent catastrophic blows from the onset of the Russian Winter
Russian Winter
The Russian Winter is a common explanation for military failures of invaders in Russia. Common nicknames are General Frost, General Winter and General Snow. Another was "General Mud"....

, the lack of supplies and constant guerilla warfare by Russian peasants and irregular troops. When the remnants of Napoleon's army crossed
Battle of Berezina
The Battle of Berezina took place November 26–29, 1812 between the French army of Napoleon, retreating after his invasion of Russia and crossing the Berezina , and the Russian armies under Mikhail Kutuzov, Peter Wittgenstein and Admiral Pavel Chichagov. The battle ended with a mixed outcome...

 the Berezina River
Berezina River
The Berezina is a river in Belarus and a tributary of the Dnieper River.The Berezina Preserve by the river is in the UNESCO list of Biosphere Preserves.-Historical significance:...

 in November, only 27,000 fit soldiers remained; the Grand Armée had lost some 380,000 men dead and 100,000 captured. Napoleon then abandoned his men and returned to Paris to protect his position as Emperor and to prepare to resist the advancing Russians. The campaign effectively ended on 14 December 1812, when the last French troops left Russia.

An event of epic proportions and momentous importance for European history, the French invasion of Russia has been the subject of much discussion among historians. The campaign's sustained role in Russian culture
Russian culture
Russian culture is associated with the country of Russia and, sometimes, specifically with ethnic Russians. It has a rich history and can boast a long tradition of excellence in every aspect of the arts, especially when it comes to literature and philosophy, classical music and ballet, architecture...

 may be seen in Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist...

's War and Peace
War and Peace
War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature...

, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture
1812 Overture
The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E flat major, Op. 49, popularly known as the 1812 Overture or the Overture of 1812 is an overture written by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1880 to commemorate Russia's defense of Moscow against Napoleon's advancing Grande Armée at the Battle of...

, and the identification of it with the German invasion of 1941–45
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

, which became known as the Great Patriotic War
Great Patriotic War (term)
The term Great Patriotic War , Velíkaya Otéchestvennaya voyná,) is used in Russia and some other states of the former Soviet Union to describe the portion of World War II from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945, against Nazi Germany and its allies in the many fronts of Soviet-German war.-History:The term...

 in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 and Russia.

Alternative names

Napoleon
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

's invasion is better known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 (Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 ), not to be confused with the Great Patriotic War
Great Patriotic War (term)
The term Great Patriotic War , Velíkaya Otéchestvennaya voyná,) is used in Russia and some other states of the former Soviet Union to describe the portion of World War II from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945, against Nazi Germany and its allies in the many fronts of Soviet-German war.-History:The term...

  which refers to Hitler's, rather than Napoleon's, invasion of Russia. The Patriotic War of 1812 is also occasionally referred to as the "War of 1812", which is not to be confused with the conflict of the same name
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

 between the United Kingdom
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

 and the United States. It was also termed the "Fatherland War", and later the "First Fatherland War", with both World Wars later being termed the "Second Fatherland War
Second Fatherland War
The Second Fatherland War was the term given by contemporary Russians to both the Eastern Front of World War I and the Eastern Front of World War II. Both terms attempted to link the current war with the French invasion of Russia in 1812, which had been termed the "Fatherland War" and later the...

". In pre-revolutionary Russian literature, the war was occasionally described as "an invasion of twelve languages" . In an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, Napoleon in his own words termed this war the "Second Polish War" (the first Polish war being the creation of Duchy of Warsaw from parts of Prussian and Austrian partitions), because one of the stated goals of the war was the resurrection of the Polish state on the territories of former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

 (modern territories of Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

, Belarus
Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

 and Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

).

Causes

At the time of the invasion, Napoleon and the Empire was some distance from its apogee in 1806-1809. While with most of Western and Central Europe lay either under his direct control or by various protectorates, allies, and countries defeated by his empire and under treaties favorable for France, Napoleon had embroiled his Armies in a costly and drawn-out conflict in the Iberian peninsula
Peninsular War
The Peninsular War was a war between France and the allied powers of Spain, the United Kingdom, and Portugal for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when French and Spanish armies crossed Spain and invaded Portugal in 1807. Then, in 1808, France turned on its...

 (Spain and Portugal). The economy, Army morale, and political support at home had noticeably declined. But most importantly, Napoleon himself was not in the same physical and mental state as in years past. He had become overweight and increasingly prone to various maladies. Nevertheless, despite his troubles in Spain, with the exception of British expeditionary forces to that country, no European power dared move against him.

The 1809 Austrian war treaty had a clause removing Western Galicia from Austria and annexing it to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Russia viewed this as against its interests and as a potential launching point for an invasion of Russia. In 1811 Russian Staff developed a plan of offensive war, assuming a Russian assault on Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

 and Danzig.

In an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, Napoleon in his own words termed this war the Second Polish War: "Soldiers, the second war of Poland is started; the first finished in Tilsit. In Tilsit, Russia swore eternal alliance in France and war in England. It violates its oaths today. Russia is pulled by its fate; its destinies must be achieved! Does it thus believe us degenerated? Thus let us go ahead; let us pass Neman River, carry the war on its territory. The second war of Poland will be glorious with the French Armies like the first one." Napoleon daily decree, June 22, 1812. The "first" Polish war being the War of the Fourth Coalition
War of the Fourth Coalition
The Fourth Coalition against Napoleon's French Empire was defeated in a war spanning 1806–1807. Coalition partners included Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and the United Kingdom....

 to liberate Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

 from Russia
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...

 and Austria
Habsburg Monarchy
The Habsburg Monarchy covered the territories ruled by the junior Austrian branch of the House of Habsburg , and then by the successor House of Habsburg-Lorraine , between 1526 and 1867/1918. The Imperial capital was Vienna, except from 1583 to 1611, when it was moved to Prague...

), because one of the official declared goals of this war was the resurrection of the Polish state
Duchy of Warsaw
The Duchy of Warsaw was a Polish state established by Napoleon I in 1807 from the Polish lands ceded by the Kingdom of Prussia under the terms of the Treaties of Tilsit. The duchy was held in personal union by one of Napoleon's allies, King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony...

 on territories of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

. Tsar Alexander found Russia in an economic bind as his country had little in the way of manufacturing yet was rich in raw materials and relied heavily on trade with Napoleon's continental system
Continental System
The Continental System or Continental Blockade was the foreign policy of Napoleon I of France in his struggle against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland during the Napoleonic Wars. It was a large-scale embargo against British trade, which began on November 21, 1806...

 for both money and manufactured goods. Russia's withdrawal from the system was a further incentive to Napoleon to force a decision.

Logistics

The invasion of Russia clearly and dramatically demonstrates the importance of logistics
Logistics
Logistics is the management of the flow of goods between the point of origin and the point of destination in order to meet the requirements of customers or corporations. Logistics involves the integration of information, transportation, inventory, warehousing, material handling, and packaging, and...

 in military planning, especially when the land will not provide for the number of troops deployed in an area of operations far exceeding the experience of the invading army. Napoleon and the Grande Armée had developed a proclivity for living off the land that had served it well in the densely populated and agriculturally rich central Europe with its dense network of roads. Rapid forced marches had dazed and confused old order Austrian and Prussian armies and much had been made of the use of foraging. In Russia many of the Grande Armée's methods of operation worked against it. Forced marches often made troops do without supplies as the supply wagons struggled to keep up. Lack of food and water in thinly populated, much less agriculturally dense regions led to the death of troops and their mounts by exposing them to waterborne diseases from drinking from mud puddles and eating rotten food and forage. The front of the army would receive whatever could be provided while the formations behind starved.

Napoleon had in fact made extensive preparations providing for the provisioning of his army. Seventeen train battalions, comprising 6000 vehicles, were to provide a 40-day supply for the Grande Armée and its operations, and a large system of magazines was established in towns and cities in Poland and East Prussia. At the start of the campaign, no march on Moscow was envisioned and so the preparations would have sufficed. However, the Russian armies could not stand singularly against the main battle group of 285,000 men and would continue to retreat and attempt to join one another. This demanded an advance by the Grande Armée over a network of dirt roads that would dissolve into deep mires, where ruts in the mud would freeze solid, killing already exhausted horses and breaking wagons. As the graph of Charles Joseph Minard
Charles Joseph Minard
Charles Joseph Minard was a French civil engineer noted for his inventions in the field of information graphics.- Biography :...

, given below, shows, the Grande Armée incurred the majority of its losses during the march to Moscow during the summer and autumn. Starvation, desertion, typhus
Typhus
Epidemic typhus is a form of typhus so named because the disease often causes epidemics following wars and natural disasters...

, and suicide would cost the French Army more men than all the battles of the Russian invasion combined.

Grande Armée

On 24 June 1812, the 690,000 men of the Grande Armée, the largest army assembled up to that point in European history, crossed the river Neman
Neman River
Neman or Niemen or Nemunas, is a major Eastern European river rising in Belarus and flowing through Lithuania before draining into the Curonian Lagoon and then into the Baltic Sea at Klaipėda. It is the northern border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast in its lower reaches...

 and headed towards Moscow.
Anthony Joes in Journal of Conflict Studies wrote that:
M. Minard's famous infographic (see below) depicts the march ingeniously by showing the size of the advancing army, overlaid on a rough map, as well as the retreating soldiers together with temperatures recorded (as much as 30 below zero on the Réaumur scale) on their return. The numbers on this chart have 422,000 crossing the Neman with Napoleon, 22,000 taking a side trip early on in the campaign, 100,000 surviving the battles en route to Moscow and returning from there; only 4,000 survive the march back, to be joined by 6,000 that survived from that initial 22,000 in the feint attack northward; in the end, only 10,000 crossed the Neman back out of the initial 422,000.

Russian Imperial Army

The forces immediately facing Napoleon consisted of three armies comprising 175,250 Russians and 15,000 Cossacks, with 938 guns as follows:
General of Infantry Mikhail Bogdanovich Barclay de Tolly
Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly
Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly , was a Russian Field Marshal and Minister of War during Napoleon's invasion in 1812 and War of the Sixth Coalition.-Early life:...

 served as the Commander in Chief of the Russian Armies, a field commander of the First Western Army and Minister of War until replaced by Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov
Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov
Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov was a Field Marshal of the Russian Empire. He served as one of the finest military officers and diplomats of Russia under the reign of three Romanov Tsars: Catherine II, Paul I and Alexander I...

 who assumed the role of Commander-in-chief during the retreat after the Battle of Smolensk
Battle of Smolensk (1812)
The Battle of Smolensk, the first major battle of the French invasion of Russia took place on August 16–18, 1812, between 175,000 men of the Grande Armée under Napoleon Bonaparte and 130,000 Russians under Barclay de Tolly, though only about 50,000 and 60,000 respectively were actually engaged...

.
These forces, however, could count on reinforcements from the second line, which totaled 129,000 men and 8,000 Cossacks, with 434 guns and 433 rounds of ammunition.

Of these about 105,000 men were actually available for the defense against the invasion. In the third line were the 36 recruit depots and militias, which came to the total of approximately 161,000 men of various and highly disparate military values, of which about 133,000 actually took part in the defense.

Thus, the grand total of all the forces was 488,000 men, of which about 428,000 gradually came into action against the Grand Army. This bottom line, however, includes more than 80,000 Cossacks and militiamen, as well as about 20,000 men who garrisoned the fortresses in the operational area.

Sweden, Russia's only ally, did not send supporting troops. But the alliance made it possible to withdraw the 45,000-man Russian corps Steinheil from Finland and use it in the later battles (20,000 men were sent to Riga
Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

).

Crossing the Niemen

The invasion commenced on 24 June 1812. Napoleon had sent a final offer of peace to Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 shortly before commencing operations. He never received a reply, so he gave the order to proceed into Russian Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

. He initially met little resistance and moved quickly into the enemy's territory. The French coalition of forces amounted to 449,000 men and 1146 cannon being opposed by the Russian armies combining to muster 153,000 Russians, 938 cannons, and 15,000 Cossacks. The center of mass of French forces focused on Kaunas
Kaunas
Kaunas is the second-largest city in Lithuania and has historically been a leading centre of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life. Kaunas was the biggest city and the center of a powiat in Trakai Voivodeship of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since 1413. During Russian Empire occupation...

 and the crossings were made by the French Guard, I, II, and III corps amounting to some 120,000 at this point of crossing alone. The actual crossings were made in the area of Alexioten where three pontoon bridges were constructed. The sites had been selected by Napoleon in person. Napoleon had a tent raised and he watched and reviewed troops as they crossed the Niemen
Neman River
Neman or Niemen or Nemunas, is a major Eastern European river rising in Belarus and flowing through Lithuania before draining into the Curonian Lagoon and then into the Baltic Sea at Klaipėda. It is the northern border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast in its lower reaches...

. Roads in this area of Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

 hardly qualified as such, actually being small dirt tracks through areas of dense forest. Supply lines simply could not keep up with the forced marches of the corps and rear formations always suffered the worst privations.

March on Vilnius

The 25th of June found Napoleon's group past the bridge head with Ney's command approaching the existing crossings at Alexioten. Murat's reserve cavalry provided the vanguard with Napoleon the guard and Davout's 1st corp following behind. Eugene's command would cross the Niemen further north at Piloy, and MacDonald crossed the same day. Jerome command wouldn't complete its crossing at Grodno until the 28th. Napoleon rushed towards Vilnius
Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

 pushing the infantry forward in columns that suffered from heavy rain then stifling heat. The central group would cross 70 miles (112.7 km) in two days. Ney's III corps would march down the road to Sudervė with Oudinot marching on the other side of the Neris River in an operation attempting to catch General Wittgenstein's command between Ney, Oudinout, and Macdonald's, commands, but Macdonald's command was late in arriving to an objective too far away and the opportunity vanished. Jerome was tasked with tackling Bagration by marching to Grodno and Reynier's VII corps sent to Białystok in support.

The Russian headquarters was in fact centered in Vilnius
Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

 on June 24 and couriers rushed news about the crossing of the Niemen to Barclay de Tolley. Before the night had passed orders were sent out to Bagration and Platov to take the offensive. Alexander left Vilnius on June 26 and Barclay assumed overall command. Although Barclay wanted to give battle he assessed it as a hopeless situation and ordered Vilnius's magazines burned and its bridge dismantled. Wittgenstein moved his command to Perkele passing beyond Macdonald and Oudinot's operations with Wittgenstein's rear guard clashing with Oudinout's forward elements. Doctorov on the Russian Left found his command threatened by Phalen's III cavalry corp. Bagration was ordered to Vileyka
Vileyka
Vileyka – town in Republic of Belarus, the capital of the Vileyka Raion in the Minsk Voblast. It is located on the river Viliya, 100 km to northwest from Minsk. First documental record: 16 November 1460....

 which moved him towards Barclay though the order's intent is still something of a mystery to this day.

On June the 28th Napoleon entered Vilnius with only light skirmishing. The foraging in Lithuania proved hard as the land was mostly barren and forested. The supplies of forage were less than that of Poland and two days of forced marching made a bad supply situation worse. Central to the problem were the expanding distances to supply magazines and the fact that no supply wagon could keep up with a forced marched infantry column. The weather itself became an issue where according to historian Richard K. Riehn:
A Lieutenant Mertens — a Wurttemberger serving with Ney's III corps — reported in his diary that oppressive heat followed by rain left them with dead horses and camping in swamp-like conditions with dysentery and influenza raging though the ranks with hundreds in a field hospital that had to be set up for the purpose. He reported the times, dates, and places, of events reporting thunderstorms on the 6th of June and men dying of sunstroke by the 11th. The Crown Prince of Wurttemberg reported 21 men dead in bivouacs
Military camp
A military camp or bivouac is a semi-permanent facility for the lodging of an army. Camps are erected when a military force travels away from a major installation or fort during training or operations, and often have the form of large campsites. In the Roman era the military camp had highly...

. The Bavarian corps was reporting 345 sick by June 13.

Desertion was high among Spanish and Portuguese formations. These deserters proceeded to terrorize the population, looting whatever lay to hand. The areas in which the Grande Armée passed were devastated. A Polish officer reported that areas around him were depopulated.

The French light Cavalry was shocked to find itself outclassed by Russian counterparts so much so that Napoleon had ordered that infantry be provided as back up to French light cavalry units. This affected both French reconnaissance and intelligence operations. Despite 30,000 cavalry, contact was not maintained with Barclay's forces leaving Napoleon guessing and throwing out columns to find his opposition.

The operation intended to split Bagration's forces from Barclay's forces by driving to Vilnius had cost the French forces 25,000 losses from all causes in a few days. Strong probing operations were advanced from Vilnius towards Nemenčinė
Nemencine
Nemenčinė is a city in Vilnius district municipality, Lithuania, it is located about north-east of Vilnius.-Names:Nemenčinė is the original name of the city reflected in historical documents and still in use today. It derives from a Lithuanian word referring to the river Nemenčia...

, Mykoliškės, Ashmyany, and Molėtai
Moletai
Molėtai is a city in north eastern Lithuania. One of the oldest settlements in Lithuania, it is a popular resort for the inhabitants of Vilnius. According to the 2001 census, it had 7,221 inhabitants....

.

Eugene crossed at Prenn on June 30 while Jerome moved VII Corps to Białystok, with everything else crossing at Grodno. Murat advanced to Nemenčinė on July 1 running into elements of Doctorov's III Russian Cavalry Corps enroute to Djunaszev. Napoleon assumed this was Bagration's 2nd Army and rushed out before being told it was not 24 hours later. Napoleon then attempted to use Davout, Jerome, and Eugene, out on his right in a hammer and anvil
Hammer and anvil
The Hammer and Anvil tactic is a military tactic used since the beginning of organized warfare. It was used mostly in the ancient world, including by Alexander the Great.- The procedure :...

 to catch Bagration to destroy the 2nd army in an operation spanning Ashmyany and Minsk
Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

. This operation had failed to produce results on his left before with Macdonald and Oudinot. Doctorov had moved from Djunaszev to Svir narrowly evading French forces, with 11 regiments and a battery of 12 guns heading to join Bagration when moving too late to stay with Doctorov.

Conflicting orders and lack of information had almost placed Bagration in a bind marching into Davout; however, Jerome could not arrive in time over the same mud tracks, supply problems, and weather, that had so badly affected the rest of the Grande Armée, losing 9000 men in four days. Command disputes between Jerome and General Vandamme would not help the situation. Bagration joined with Doctorov and had 45,000 men at Novi-Sverzen by the 7th. Davout had lost 10,000 men marching to Minsk and would not attack Bagration without Jerome joining him. Two French Cavalry defeats by Platov kept the French in the dark and Bagration was no better informed with both overestimating the other's strength, Davout thought Bagration had some 60,000 men and Bagration thought Davout had 70,000. Bagration was getting orders from both Alexander's staff and Barclay (which Barclay didn't know) and left Bagration without a clear picture of what was expected of him and the general situation. This stream of confused orders to Bagration had him upset with Barclay which would have repercussions later.

Napoleon reached Vilnius on the 28th of June leaving 10,000 dead horses in his wake. These horses were vital to bringing up further supplies to an army in desperate need. Napoleon had supposed that Alexander would sue for peace at this point and was to be disappointed; it would not be his last disappointment. Barclay continued to retreat to the Drissa deciding that the concentration of the 1st and 2nd armies was his first priority.

Barclay continued his retreat and with the exception of the occasional rearguard clash remained unhindered in his movements ever further east. To date the standard methods of the Grande Armée were working against it. Rapid forced marches quickly caused desertion, starvation, exposed the troops to filthy water and disease, while the logistics trains lost horses by the thousands, further exacerbating the problems. Some 50,000 stragglers and deserters became a lawless mob warring with local peasantry in all-out guerrilla war, that further hindered supplies reaching the Grand Armee which was already down 95,000 men.

March on Moscow

Barclay, the Russian commander-in-chief, refused to fight despite Bagration's urgings. Several times he attempted to establish a strong defensive position, but each time the French advance was too quick for him to finish preparations and he was forced to retreat once more. When the French army progressed further, serious problems in foraging surfaced, aggravated by scorched earth
Scorched earth
A scorched earth policy is a military strategy or operational method which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area...

 tactics of the Russian army advocated by Karl Ludwig von Phull
Karl Ludwig von Phull
Karl Ludwig von Phull was a German general in the service of the Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian Empire. Phull served as Chief of the General Staff of King Frederick William III of Prussia in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt...

.

Political pressure on Barclay to give battle and the general's continuing resistance (viewed as intransigence by the populace) led to his removal from the position of commander-in-chief to be replaced by the boastful and popular Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov
Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov
Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov was a Field Marshal of the Russian Empire. He served as one of the finest military officers and diplomats of Russia under the reign of three Romanov Tsars: Catherine II, Paul I and Alexander I...

. Despite Kutuzov's rhetoric to the contrary, he continued in much the way Barclay had, immediately seeing that to face the French in open battle would be to sacrifice his army pointlessly. Following an indecisive clash at Smolensk
Battle of Smolensk (1812)
The Battle of Smolensk, the first major battle of the French invasion of Russia took place on August 16–18, 1812, between 175,000 men of the Grande Armée under Napoleon Bonaparte and 130,000 Russians under Barclay de Tolly, though only about 50,000 and 60,000 respectively were actually engaged...

 on August 16–18, he finally managed to establish a defensive position at Borodino
Borodino
Borodino is a rural locality in Mozhaysky District of Moscow Oblast, Russia, located west of Mozhaysk.The village is famous as the location of the Battle of Borodino, which occurred in what is now known as the "Borodino Battlefield" . The State Borodino War and History Museum and Reserve is...

.

The Battle of Borodino

The Battle of Borodino
Battle of Borodino
The Battle of Borodino , fought on September 7, 1812, was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the French invasion of Russia and all Napoleonic Wars, involving more than 250,000 troops and resulting in at least 70,000 casualties...

, fought on September 7, 1812, was the largest and bloodiest day of the French invasion of Russia, involving more than 250,000 troops and resulting in at least 70,000 casualties. The French
First French Empire
The First French Empire , also known as the Greater French Empire or Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I of France...

 Grande Armée under Emperor Napoleon I
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

 attacked the Imperial Russian Army
Imperial Russian Army
The Imperial Russian Army was the land armed force of the Russian Empire, active from around 1721 to the Russian Revolution of 1917. In the early 1850s, the Russian army consisted of around 938,731 regular soldiers and 245,850 irregulars . Until the time of military reform of Dmitry Milyutin in...

 of General Mikhail Kutuzov
Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov
Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov was a Field Marshal of the Russian Empire. He served as one of the finest military officers and diplomats of Russia under the reign of three Romanov Tsars: Catherine II, Paul I and Alexander I...

 near the village of Borodino, west of the town of Mozhaysk
Mozhaysk
Mozhaysk is a town and the administrative center of Mozhaysky District of Moscow Oblast, Russia, located to the west from the Russian capital, on the historic road leading to Smolensk and then to Poland. Population:...

 and eventually captured the main positions on the battlefield but failed to destroy the Russian army. About a third of Napoleon's soldiers were killed or wounded; Russian losses, while heavier, could be replaced due to Russia's large population, since Napoleon's campaign took place on Russian soil.

The battle ended with the disorganized Russian Army out of position and ripe for destruction. The state of exhaustion of the French forces and the lack of recognition of the state of the Russian Army led Napoleon to remain on the battlefield with his army instead of the forced pursuit that had marked other campaigns that he had conducted. The entirety of the Guard was still available to Napoleon and in refusing to use it he lost this singular chance to destroy the Russian army. The battle at Borodino was a pivotal point in the campaign, as it was the last offensive action fought by Napoleon in Russia. By withdrawing, the Russian army preserved its combat strength, eventually allowing it to force Napoleon out of the country.

The Battle of Borodino on September 7 was the bloodiest day of battle in the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

. The Russian army could only muster half of its strength on September 8 and was forced to retreat, leaving the road to Moscow open. Kutuzov also ordered the evacuation of the city.

By this point the Russians had managed to draft large numbers of reinforcements into the army bringing total Russian land forces to their peak strength in 1812 of 904,000 with perhaps 100,000 in the vicinity of Moscow — the remnants of Kutuzov's army from Borodino partially reinforced.

Capture of Moscow

On September 14, 1812, Napoleon moved into the empty city that was stripped of all supplies by its governor, Feodor Rostopchin. Relying on classical rules of warfare aiming at capturing the enemy's capital (even though Saint Petersburg was the political capital at that time, Moscow was the spiritual capital of Russia), Napoleon had expected Tsar
Tsar
Tsar is a title used to designate certain European Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism...

 Alexander I
Alexander I of Russia
Alexander I of Russia , served as Emperor of Russia from 23 March 1801 to 1 December 1825 and the first Russian King of Poland from 1815 to 1825. He was also the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland and Lithuania....

 to offer his capitulation at the Poklonnaya Hill
Poklonnaya Hill
Poklonnaya Gora is, at 171.5 metres, one of the highest spots in Moscow. Its two summits used to be separated by the Setun River, until one of the summits was razed in 1987...

 but the Russian command did not think of surrendering.

As Napoleon prepared to enter Moscow he was surprised to have received no delegation from the city. At the approach of a victorious general, the civil authorities customarily presented themselves at the gates of the city with the keys to the city in an attempt to safeguard the population and their property. As nobody received Napoleon he sent his aides into the city, seeking out officials with whom the arrangements for the occupation could be made. When none could be found, it became clear that the Russians had left the city unconditionally.

In a normal surrender, the city officials would be forced to find billets and make arrangements for the feeding of the soldiers, but the situation caused a free-for-all in which every man was forced to find lodgings and sustenance for himself. Napoleon was secretly disappointed by the lack of custom as he felt it robbed him of a traditional victory over the Russians, especially in taking such a historically significant city.

Before the order was received to evacuate Moscow, the city had a population of approximately 270,000 people. As much of the population pulled out, the remainder were burning or robbing the remaining stores of food to deprive the French of their use. As Napoleon entered the Kremlin
Moscow Kremlin
The Moscow Kremlin , sometimes referred to as simply The Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River , Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square and the Alexander Garden...

, there still remained one-third of the original population, mainly consisting of foreign traders, servants and people who were unable or unwilling to flee. These, including the several hundred strong French colony, attempted to avoid the troops.

Retreat and Rebuilding

Both Armies began to move and rebuild. The Russian retreat was significant for two reasons; firstly, the move was to the south and not the east; secondly, the Russians immediately began operations that would continue to deplete the French forces. Platov, commanding the rear guard on the 8th of September, offered such strong resistance that Napoleon remained on the Borodino field. On the 9th of September Miloradovitch assumed command of the rear guard adding his forces to the formation. Another battle was given throwing back French forces at Semolino causing 2,000 losses on both sides, however some 10,000 wounded would be left behind by the Russian Army. The French Army began to move out on Sept. 10th with the still ill Napoleon not leaving until the 12th. Some 18,000 men were ordered in from as Smolensk, and Marshal Victor corps supplied another 25,000. Miloradovich
Mikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich
Mikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich , spelled Miloradovitch in contemporary English sources was a Russian general prominent during the Napoleonic Wars. He entered military service on the eve of the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–1790 and his career advanced rapidly during the reign of Paul I...

 would not give up his rear guard duties until the 14th allowing much of Moscow to be deserted, and retreated under a truce at last.

Fire of Moscow

After entering Moscow, the Grande Armée, unhappy with military conditions and no sign of victory, began looting what little remained within Moscow. Already the same evening, the first fires began to break out in the city, spreading and reemerging over the next few days.

Moscow, comprised two thirds of wooden buildings at the time, burnt down almost completely (it was estimated that four-fifths of the city was destroyed), depriving the French of shelter in the city. French historians assume that the fires were due to Russian sabotage
Sabotage
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is...

.

Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist...

, in War and Peace
War and Peace
War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature...

, claimed that the fire was not deliberately set, either by the Russians or the French; the natural result of placing a wooden city in the hands of strangers in wintertime is that they will make small fires to stay warm, to cook their food and for other benign purposes and that some of the fires will get out of control. Without a Fire Department, house fires will spread to become neighborhood fires and ultimately a city-wide conflagration.

Retreat and losses

Sitting in the ashes of a ruined city without having received the Russian capitulation and facing Russian operations against his supplies forced him and his diminished army out of Moscow. Napoleon started his long retreat by the middle of October 1812. At the Battle of Maloyaroslavets
Battle of Maloyaroslavets
The Battle of Maloyaroslavets took place on 24 October 1812, between the Russians, under Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, and part of the corps of Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon's stepson, under General Alexis Joseph Delzons which numbered about 20,000 strong.-Prelude:On 19 October, Napoleon...

, Kutuzov was able to force the French army into using the same Smolensk road on which they had earlier moved East and which had been stripped of food by both armies. This is often presented as another example of scorched-earth tactics. Continuing to block the southern flank to prevent the French from returning by a different route, Kutuzov again deployed partisan
Partisan (military)
A partisan is a member of an irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or by an army of occupation by some kind of insurgent activity...

 tactics to constantly strike at the French train where it was weakest. Light Russian cavalry, including mounted Cossacks, assaulted and broke up isolated French units.

Supplying the army became an impossibility – the lack of grass weakened the army's remaining horses, almost all of which died or were killed for food by starving soldiers. With no horses the French cavalry ceased to exist and cavalrymen were forced to march on foot. In addition the lack of horses meant that cannons and wagons had to be abandoned, depriving the army of artillery and support convoys. Although the army was quickly able to replace its artillery in 1813, the abandonment of wagons created an immense logistics problem for the remainder of the war, as thousands of the best military wagons were left behind in Russia. As starvation and disease took their toll desertion soared. Most of the deserters were taken prisoner or promptly executed by Russian peasants. Badly weakened by these circumstances, the French military position collapsed. The Russians inflicted further defeats on elements of the Grande Armée at Vyazma
Battle of Vyazma
The Battle of Vyazma , occurred at the beginning of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. In this encounter the rear guard of the Grande Armée was defeated by the Russians commanded by General Mikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich...

, Krasnoi
Battle of Krasnoi
The Battle of Krasnoi was a series of skirmishes fought in the final stage of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. This encounter was noteworthy because of the heavy losses inflicted on the remnants of the Grande Armée by the Russians under General Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov...

, and Polotsk
Second Battle of Polotsk
The Second Battle of Polotsk took place during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. In this encounter the Russians under General Peter Wittgenstein attacked and defeated a Franco-Bavarian force under Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr. In the aftermath of this success, the Russians took Polotsk and dismantled...

. The crossing of the river Berezina was the final French catastrophe
Battle of Berezina
The Battle of Berezina took place November 26–29, 1812 between the French army of Napoleon, retreating after his invasion of Russia and crossing the Berezina , and the Russian armies under Mikhail Kutuzov, Peter Wittgenstein and Admiral Pavel Chichagov. The battle ended with a mixed outcome...

 of the war, as two Russian armies inflicted horrendous casualties on the remnants of the Grande Armée as it struggled to escape across pontoon bridges.
In early November 1812 Napoleon learned that General Claude de Malet
Claude François de Malet
Claude François de Malet was born in Dôle to an aristocratic family on June 28, 1754. Malet was executed by a firing squad on October 29, 1812, six days after Malet staged a failed republican coup d'état as Napoléon Bonaparte returned from the disastrous Russian campaign.-Before and during the...

 had attempted a coup d'état
Malet coup of 1812
The Malet coup of 1812 was an attempted coup d'etat in Paris, France, aimed at removing Napoleon I, then campaigning in Russia, from power. The coup was engineered by Republican general Claude François de Malet, who had spent time in prison because of his opposition to Napoleon...

 back in France. He abandoned the army and returned home on a sleigh, leaving Marshal Joachim Murat
Joachim Murat
Joachim-Napoléon Murat , Marshal of France and Grand Admiral or Admiral of France, 1st Prince Murat, was Grand Duke of Berg from 1806 to 1808 and then King of Naples from 1808 to 1815...

 in charge. Murat later deserted to save his kingdom of Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

, leaving Napoleon's former stepson Eugène de Beauharnais
Eugène de Beauharnais
Eugène Rose de Beauharnais, Prince Français, Prince of Venice, Viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy, Hereditary Grand Duke of Frankfurt, 1st Duke of Leuchtenberg and 1st Prince of Eichstätt ad personam was the first child and only son of Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais and Joséphine Tascher de la...

 in command.

In the following weeks, the Grande Armée shrank further and on 14 December 1812 it left Russian territory. According to the popular legend only about 22,000 of Napoleon's men survived the Russian campaign. However, some sources say that no more than 380,000 soldiers were killed. The difference can be explained by up to 100,000 French prisoners in Russian hands (mentioned by Eugen Tarlé
Yevgeny Tarle
Yevgeny Viktorovich Tarle was a Soviet historian and academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is known for his books about Napoleon's invasion of Russia and on the Crimean War, and many other works...

, released in 1814) and more than 80,000 (including all wing-armies, not only the rest of the "main army" under Napoleon's direct command) returning troops (mentioned by German military historians). Most of the Prussian contingent survived thanks to the Convention of Tauroggen
Convention of Tauroggen
The Convention of Tauroggen was a truce signed 30 December 1812 at Tauroggen , between Generalleutnant Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg on behalf of his Prussian troops, and by General Hans Karl von Diebitsch of the Russian Army...

 and almost the whole Austrian contingent under Schwarzenberg
Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg
Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg (or Charles Philip, Prince of Schwarzenberg (April 18, 1771 – October 15, 1820) was an Austrian field marshal.- Life :...

 withdrew successfully. The Russians formed the Russian-German Legion
Russian-German Legion
The Russian-German Legion was a military unit set up in 1812 by the banished Graf Peter of Oldenburg on the instigation of Tsar Alexander I of Russia.-Formation:...

 from other German prisoners and deserters.
Russian casualties in the few open battles are comparable to the French losses but civilian losses along the devastated campaing route were much higher than the military casualties. In total, despite earlier estimates giving figures of several million dead, around one million were killed including civilians — fairly evenly split between the French and Russians. Military losses amounted to 300,000 French, about 72,000 Poles, 50,000 Italians, 80,000 Germans, 61,000 from other nations. As well as the loss of human life the French also lost some 200,000 horses and over 1,000 artillery pieces.

The losses of the Russian armies are hard to assess. A 19th century historian Michael Bogdanovich assessed reinforcements of the Russian armies during the war using the Military Registry archives of the General Staff. According to this the reinforcements totaled 134,000. The main army at the time of capture of Vilnius
Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

 in December had 70,000 men, while its number at the war start was about 150,000. Thus, the total loss is 210,000 men. Of these about 40,000 returned to duty. Losses of the formations operating in secondary areas of operations as well as losses in militia units were about 40,000. Thus, he came up with the number of 210,000 men and militiamen.

Weather as a factor

One study concluded that the winter only had a major effect once Napoleon was in full retreat, saying that "In regard to the claims of "General Winter", the main body of Napoleon's Grande Armée diminished by half during the first 8 weeks of his invasion before the major battle of the campaign. This decrease was partly due to garrisoning supply centres but disease, desertions and casualties sustained in minor actions caused thousands of losses. A saying arose that the Generals Janvier and Fevrier (January and February) defeated Napoleon, alluding to the Russian Winter. At Borodino, Napoleon could muster no more than 135,000 troops and he lost at least 30,000 of them to gain a narrow and Pyrrhic victory
Pyrrhic victory
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost to the victor that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately cause defeat.-Origin:...

 almost 1000 km (621.4 mi) deep in hostile territory. The sequels were his uncontested and self-defeating occupation of Moscow and his humiliating retreat which began on 19 October, before the first severe frosts later that month and the first snow on 5 November.
General of Cavalry Denis Davidov writing in 1814 noted that the winters during campaigns in 1795
French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1795
The French Revolutionary Wars continued from 1794 between Revolutionary France and the First coalition.The year opened with French forces in the process of attacking the Dutch Republic in the middle of winter. The Dutch people rallied to the French call and started the Batavian revolution. City...

 and 1807
Battle of Eylau
The Battle of Eylau or Battle of Preussisch-Eylau, 7 and 8 February 1807, was a bloody and inconclusive battle between Napoléon's Grande Armée and a Russian Empire army under Levin August, Count von Bennigsen near the town of Preußisch Eylau in East Prussia. Late in the battle, the Russians...

 were far colder but failed to prevent French operations and victories. Also, for much of the period of retreat, the temperature did not drop below 10 °C (50 °F) and even at its coldest during November in Vilno
Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

 the temperatures on the 13th (-8 °C), 14th (-9.2 °C) and 15th (-6.5 °C) were not specially severe. In fact the severe cold temperatures that are often referred to and depicted on paintings did not occur until after the French retreat crossed the Neman River
Neman River
Neman or Niemen or Nemunas, is a major Eastern European river rising in Belarus and flowing through Lithuania before draining into the Curonian Lagoon and then into the Baltic Sea at Klaipėda. It is the northern border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast in its lower reaches...

. Davidov and other Russian campaign participants record wholesale surrenders of starving members of the Grande Armée well before the onset of frosts amid eyewitness reports of cannibalism
Cannibalism
Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy...

 and point to the breakdown in French supply and constant harassment of the French army by Russian forces as the primary reasons for their losses during the retreat.

Napoleon's invasion of Russia is listed among the most lethal military operations in world history.

Historical assessment

The Russian victory over the French army in 1812 marked a huge blow to Napoleon's ambitions of European dominance. This war was the reason the other coalition allies triumphed once and for all over Napoleon. His army was shattered and morale was low, both for French troops still in Russia, fighting battles just before the campaign ended and for the troops on other fronts. Out of an original force of 615,000, only 110,000 frost-bitten and half starved survivors stumbled back into France. The Russian campaign was the decisive turning-point of the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

 that ultimately led to Napoleon's defeat and exile on the island of Elba
Elba
Elba is a Mediterranean island in Tuscany, Italy, from the coastal town of Piombino. The largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago, Elba is also part of the National Park of the Tuscan Archipelago and the third largest island in Italy after Sicily and Sardinia...

. For Russia the term Patriotic War (an English rendition of the Russian Отечественная война) formed a symbol for a strengthened national identity that would have great effect on Russian patriotism in the 19th century. The indirect result of the patriotic movement of Russians was a strong desire for the modernization of the country that would result in a series of revolutions, starting with the Decembrist revolt
Decembrist revolt
The Decembrist revolt or the Decembrist uprising took place in Imperial Russia on 14 December , 1825. Russian army officers led about 3,000 soldiers in a protest against Nicholas I's assumption of the throne after his elder brother Constantine removed himself from the line of succession...

 and ending with the February Revolution
February Revolution
The February Revolution of 1917 was the first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917. Centered around the then capital Petrograd in March . Its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty, and the end of the Russian Empire...

 of 1917.

Napoleon was not completely defeated by the disaster in Russia. The following year he raised an army of around 400,000 French troops supported by a quarter of a million French allied troops to contest control of Germany in an even larger campaign. Despite being outnumbered, he won a large victory at the Battle of Dresden
Battle of Dresden
The Battle of Dresden was fought on 26–27 August 1813 around Dresden, Germany, resulting in a French victory under Napoleon I against forces of the Sixth Coalition of Austrians, Russians and Prussians under Field Marshal Schwartzenberg. However, Napoleon's victory was not as complete as it could...

. It was not until the decisive Battle of Nations (October 16–19, 1813) that he was finally defeated and afterwards no longer had the troops to stop the Coalition's invasion of France. Napoleon did still manage to inflict heavy losses
Six Days Campaign
The Six Days Campaign was a final series of victories by the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte as the Sixth Coalition closed in on Paris....

 and a series of minor military victories on the far larger Allied armies as they drove towards Paris, though they captured the city and forced him to abdicate in 1814.

The Russian campaign had revealed that Napoleon was not invincible, putting an end to his reputation as an undefeated military genius. Napoleon had made many terrible errors in this campaign. One of the worst that he refused to quit his campaign in Spain while trying to campaign in Russia. Historian F.G. Hourtoulle perhaps says it best: "One does not make war on two fronts, especially so far apart." In trying to have both he gave up any chance at either. Napoleon had foreseen what it would mean, so he fled back to France quickly before word of the disaster became widespread, allowing him to start raising another army. Metternich began to take the actions that would take Austria out of the war with a secret truce. Sensing this and urged on by Prussian nationalists and Russian commanders, German nationalists revolted in the Confederation of the Rhine and Prussia. The decisive German campaign likely could not have occurred without the message the defeat in Russia sent to the rest of Europe.

See also

  • List of wars
  • List of invasions
  • 1812 Overture
    1812 Overture
    The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E flat major, Op. 49, popularly known as the 1812 Overture or the Overture of 1812 is an overture written by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1880 to commemorate Russia's defense of Moscow against Napoleon's advancing Grande Armée at the Battle of...

    : orchestra piece written by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Russian victory over the French.
  • War and Peace
    War and Peace
    War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature...

    : epic novel written by Leo Tolstoy
    Leo Tolstoy
    Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist...

     that analyzes Napoleon's invasion of Russia
  • General Confederation of Kingdom of Poland

Non-fiction

  • Bogdanovich Modest I. (1859-1860). 'History of the War of 1812' (История Отечественной войны 1812 года) at Runivers.ru in DjVu
    DjVu
    DjVu is a computer file format designed primarily to store scanned documents, especially those containing a combination of text, line drawings, and photographs. It uses technologies such as image layer separation of text and background/images, progressive loading, arithmetic coding, and lossy...

     and PDF formats

Fiction

  • War and Peace
    War and Peace
    War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature...

    , Leo Tolstoy
    Leo Tolstoy
    Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist...

  • The Retreat
    The Retreat (novel)
    The Retreat is a historic novel by the French author Patrick Rambaud that was first published in 2000. The English translation by Will Hobson appeared in 2004....

    , Patrick Rambaud
    Patrick Rambaud
    Patrick Rambaud is a French writer.-Life:With Michel-Antoine Burnier, he wrote forty pastiches, .They wrote Le Journalisme sans peine ....

  • Commodore Hornblower by C.S. Forester A fictional account of the siege of Riga
    Riga
    Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

     on the Baltic
    Baltic Sea
    The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

     by the French army and its allies.

External links

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