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1812 to 1812

French Invasion of Russia

by nonoumasy ▲⚬▲⚬

The French invasion of Russia, known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 and in France as the Russian campaign, began on 24 June 1812 when Napoleon's Grande Armée crossed the Neman River in an attempt to engage and defeat the Russian Army.

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The Grande Armée crossing the Niemen


Crossing the Niemen

1812 Jun 24 -

Kaunas, Lithuania

The invasion commenced on 24 June 1812. Napoleon had sent a final offer of peace to Saint Petersburg shortly before commencing operations. He never received a reply, so he gave the order to proceed into Russian Poland. He initially met little resistance and moved quickly into the enemy's territory. The French coalition of forces amounted to 449,000 men and 1,146 cannons 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 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 Neman River.Roads in this area of Lithuania 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.

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General Raevsky leading a detachment of the Russian Imperial Guard at the Battle of Saltanovka


March on Vilnius

1812 Jun 28 -

Vilnius, Lithuania

On June 28, 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.

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Napoleon and Prince Poniatowski before the burning city of Smolensk


Battle of Smolensk

1812 Aug 16 -

Smolensk, Russia

Political pressure on Barclay to give battle and the general's continuing reluctance to do so(viewed as intransigence by the Russian nobility) led to his removal.He was replaced in his position as commander-in-chief by the popular, veteran Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov. Kutuzov, however, continued much along the line of the general Russian strategy, fighting the occasional defensive engagement but being careful not to risk the army in an open battle.Instead, the Russian Army fell back ever deeper into Russia's interior. Following a defeat at Smolensk on August 16–18 he continued the move east. Unwilling to give up Moscow without a fight, Kutuzov took up a defensive position some 75 miles before Moscow at Borodino. Meanwhile, French plans to quarter at Smolensk were abandoned, and Napoleon pressed his army on after the Russians."

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Battle of Borodino

1812 Sep 7 -

Borodino, Moscow Oblast, Rus

The Battle of Borodino, fought on September 7, 1812, was the largest and bloodiest battle of the French invasion of Russia, involving more than 250,000 troops and resulting in at least 70,000 casualties. The French Grande Armée under Emperor Napoleon I attacked the Imperial Russian Army of General Mikhail Kutuzov near the village of Borodino, west of the town of Mozhaysk 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."

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Napoleon watching the fire of Moscow in September 1812


Capture of Moscow

1812 Sep 14 -

Moscow, Russia

On September 14, 1812, Napoleon moved into Moscow. However, 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. To make matters worse, Moscow had been stripped of all supplies by its governor, Feodor Rostopchin, who had also ordered the prisons to be opened. According to Germaine de Staël, who left the city a few weeks before Napoleon arrived, it was Rostopchin who ordered to set his mansion on fire.

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Hess maloyaroslavets


Retreat: Battle of Maloyaroslavets

1812 Oct 15 -

Maloyaroslavets, Kaluga Obla

Sitting in the ashes of a ruined city with no foreseeable prospect of Russian capitulation, idle troops, and supplies diminished by use and Russian operations of attrition, Napoleon had little choice but to withdraw his army from Moscow. He began the long retreat by the middle of October 1812, leaving the city himself on October 19. At the Battle of Maloyaroslavets, Kutuzov was able to force the French Army into using the same Smolensk road on which they had earlier moved east, the corridor of which had been stripped of food by both armies. This is often presented as an example of scorched earth tactics. Continuing to block the southern flank to prevent the French from returning by a different route, Kutuzov employed partisan tactics to repeatedly strike at the French train where it was weakest. As the retreating French train broke up and became separated, Cossack bands and light Russian cavalry assaulted isolated French units.

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The French Army crossing the Berezina



1812 Nov 1 -

Berezina, Bryansk Oblast, Ru

Supplying the army in full became an impossibility. The lack of grass and feed weakened the remaining horses, almost all of which died or were killed for food by starving soldiers. Without horses, the French cavalry ceased to exist; cavalrymen had to march on foot. Lack of horses meant many cannons and wagons had to be abandoned. Much of the artillery lost was replaced in 1813, but the loss of thousands of wagons and trained horses weakened Napoleon's armies for the remainder of his wars. Starvation and disease took their toll, and desertion soared. Many of the deserters were taken prisoner or killed by Russian peasants. Badly weakened by these circumstances, the French military position collapsed. Further, defeats were inflicted on elements of the Grande Armée at Vyazma, Polotsk and Krasny. The crossing of the river Berezina was a final French calamity; two Russian armies inflicted heavy casualties on the remnants of the Grande Armée as it struggled to escape across improvised bridges.


  • Caulaincourt, Armand-Augustin-Louis (1935), With Napoleon in Russia (translated by Jean Hanoteau ed.), New York: Morrow
  • Hay, Mark Edward, The Dutch Experience and Memory of the Campaign of 1812
  • Mikaberidze, Alexander (2007), The Battle of Borodino: Napoleon versus Kutuzov, London: Pen&Sword
  • Nafziger, George, Rear services and foraging in the 1812 campaign: Reasons of Napoleon's defeat
  • Ségur, Philippe Paul, comte de (2008), Defeat: Napoleon's Russian Campaign, New York: NYRB Classics, ISBN 978-1590172827
  • Nafziger, George (1984), Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, New York, N.Y.: Hippocrene Books, ISBN 978-0-88254-681-0

The End

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