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Napoleon Retreats From Moscow - History

Napoleon Retreats From Moscow - History

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Napoleon maintained his army in the burned capital of Russia for five weeks in the hope of bringing Alexander to terms; finally on October 19th with winter setting in and his armies far from home he ordered a retreat from Moscow. His army was harassed throughout their retreat. Of his army of 600,000 less then 100,000 were left when they straggled across the Niemen River in the middle of December.

Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow from Smolensk II

Yvon, Adolphe Marshal Ney Supporting the Rear Guard during the Retreat from Moscow Manchester Art Gallery http://www.artuk.org/artworks/marshal-ney-supporting-the-rear-guard-during-the-retreat-from-moscow-206465

Despite the general demoralisation, there was still a nucleus of disciplined men in most units, and many regiments found reinforcements in Smolensk, in the shape of echelons sent from depots in France, Germany or Italy. Pelet’s regiment, for instance, had shrunk to six hundred men but found a couple of hundred uniformed and armed men waiting for them. Raymond de Fezensac’s 4th of the Line was down to three hundred, but was joined by two hundred fresh men. The only problem with these men was that they had not been through the same tempering process as their comrades, and they were not up to dealing with the conditions. The 6th Chasseurs à Cheval received 250 recruits from their depot in northern Italy, but the shock to their system was such that not one of them was alive a week later.

The loss of up to 60,000 men and possibly as many as 20,000 camp followers since leaving Moscow could, theoretically, have been to Napoleon’s advantage. Caulaincourt was one of those who believed that if a couple of hundred cannon had been thrown into the Dnieper, along with the wagons carrying the trophies from Moscow, and all the wounded left in Smolensk with medical attendants and supplies, liberating thousands of horses, the slimmed-down but more mobile force of 40,000 or so men could have operated in a more aggressive manner and fed itself more easily. He blamed Napoleon for failing to take stock of the situation. ‘Never has a retreat been less well ordered,’ he complained.

It is certainly true that Napoleon’s unwillingness to lose face prevented him from taking drastic measures and making a dash for Minsk and Vilna. He put off every decision to fall back further until the very last moment. ‘In that long retreat from Russia he was as uncertain and as undecided on the last day as he was on the first,’ wrote Caulaincourt. As a result, even the march could not be organised properly by the staff.

But the real problem vitiating any attempt to reorganise the Grande Armée was that at every stop along the line of retreat it picked up fresh troops, who were often more of a liability than an asset, as well as commissaires, local collaborators, wounded and sick who had been left behind on the advance, and all the riff-raff who had been infesting the area under French occupation. As the Grande Armée retreated, it pushed all this dead weight before it, and had to march through it, losing resources and gaining chaos in the process.

Napoleon still entertained hopes of halting the retreat at Orsha or, failing that, along the line of the river Berezina. After four days in Smolensk, he sent the remnants of Junot’s and Poniatowski’s corps ahead, and left the city himself on the following day, 14 November, preceded by Mortier with the Young Guard and followed by the Old Guard. Prince Eugène, Davout and Ney were to follow at one-day intervals.

The going was hard, through deep snow which became slippery when compacted by the tramp of feet and hooves. There were many slopes in the road testing men and horses, and a number of bridges over small ravines causing bottlenecks. On the evening of the first day out of Smolensk, Colonel Boulart with part of the artillery of the Guard got stuck at a bridge which was followed by a steep rise. There was the usual jam of people, horses and vehicles, all vying for precedence, and every so often cossacks would ride up and cause panic. The Russians had now placed light guns on sleighs, which meant they could be brought up, fired and pulled away before the French had time to unlimber their cannon and fire back. Boulart realised that if he did not take decisive action, his battery would disintegrate in the midst of the jam. He therefore forced a passage for himself, by over-turning civilian vehicles or pushing them off the road. He got his men to dig under the snow on either side of the road until they found earth, and to sprinkle this on the icy surface of the road leading up the slope, which he also broke up with picks. It took him all night to get his cannon across the bridge and up the slope. ‘I fell heavily at least twenty times as I went up and down that slope, but, sustained as I was by the determination to succeed, I did not let this hinder me,’ he wrote.

While Boulart struggled with his guns, Napoleon, who had stopped at Korytnia for the night, called Caulaincourt to his bedside and again talked of the necessity of his going back to Paris as soon as possible. He had just heard that Miloradovich had cut the road ahead of him near Krasny. He could not rule out the possibility of being taken, and his close encounter with the cossacks outside Maloyaroslavets had unnerved him. In order to arm himself against capture he bade Dr Yvan prepare him a dose of poison, which he henceforth wore in a small black silk sachet around his neck.

The following morning, 15 November, Napoleon fought his way through to Krasny, where he paused to allow those behind him to catch up. But Miloradovich had closed the road once more behind him, and when Prince Eugène’s Italians, now not much more than four thousand strong, came marching down it the following afternoon they in turn found themselves cut off. Massed ranks of Russian infantry supported by guns barred the road in front of them, while cavalry and cossacks hovered on their flanks. Miloradovich sent an officer under a white flag to inform Prince Eugène that he had 20,000 men and that Kutuzov was nearby with the rest of the Russian army. ‘Go back quickly whence you came and tell him who sent you that if he has 20,000 men, we are 80,000!’ came the reply. Prince Eugène unlimbered his remaining ten guns, formed up his corps into a dense column and forged ahead.

The Russians, who could see how few of them there were, once again summoned them to surrender. When this was rejected, they opened fire, and a fierce and bloody fight ensued. ‘We fought until nightfall without giving ground,’ recalled one French officer, ‘but it fell just in time one more hour of daylight and we would probably have been overpowered.’ The Russians were nevertheless still between them and Krasny, and would easily crush them on the following day. In the circumstances, Prince Eugène could see no way out other than to fall in with the plan of a Polish colonel attached to his staff. When darkness fell, he formed up his remaining men in a compact file and, leaving behind all unnecessary impedimenta, marched off the road, into the woods, and across country round the side of the Russian army. When challenged by Russian sentries, the Polish colonel marching at the head of the column brazenly replied in Russian that they were on a special secret mission by order of His Serene Highness Field Marshal Prince Kutuzov. Unbelievably, the ploy worked, and in the early hours, just as Miloradovich was preparing to finish it off, the 4th Corps marched into Krasny behind his back.

Napoleon was relieved to see his stepson, but he was now in something of a quandary. He ought to wait for Davout and Ney, in case they too had difficulty in breaking through Miloradovich’s roadblock, but he was in peril of being stranded himself, as Kutuzov had turned up a couple of miles to the south of Krasny, and could easily cut the road between him and Orsha. In order to gain time, he decided to take the field himself at the head of his Guard.

Walking in front of his grenadiers, Napoleon led them out of Krasny back onto the Smolensk road and then turned them to face the Russian troops who had massed in a long formation to the south of the road. ‘Advancing with a firm step, as on the day of a great parade, he placed himself in the middle of the battlefield, facing the enemy’s batteries,’ in the words of Sergeant Bourgogne. He was vastly outnumbered, but his bearing, standing calmly under fire as the Russian shells struck men all around him, seems to have impressed not only his own men but the enemy as well. Miloradovich moved back from the road, leaving it open for Davout to march through. And Kutuzov resisted the entreaties of Toll, Konovnitsin, Bennigsen and Wilson, who could all see that the Russians were in a position to encircle Napoleon and overwhelm him by sheer weight of numbers, ending the war there and then.

Napoleon was alarmed to discover that Davout had hurried on westwards without waiting for Ney, who was still some way behind. But he could not afford to wait any longer himself, as Kutuzov had by now turned his wing and threatened his line of retreat to Orsha. He left Mortier and the Young Guard to hold Krasny and cover Davout’s retreat, and himself marched through the town and out onto the Orsha road, at the head of the Old Guard.

It was not long before he came up against a horde of civilians and deserters who had gone on ahead and, finding the road cut by the Russians, come rushing back in a panic. Napoleon steadied them, but not before they had caused chaos in the ranks and among the wagons following the staff, with the result that some careered off the road and sank in the deep snow covering the boggy ground on either side of it.

As the French resumed their march, they were caught in a murderous enfilading fire from the Russian guns. The last of Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry struggled to keep cossacks and Russian cavalry at bay, while the dense column of men and vehicles made its way down the cluttered road. Colonel Boulart, who had managed to keep all his guns thus far, had a terrible job getting them through here too. The civilians and men who had left the ranks were getting in the way, and their skidding vehicles obstructed the road. Boulart cleared some ground at the side of the road, and, one by one, led his gun teams round the jam. But the chaos increased as the Russian artillery were now shelling the bottleneck, and when he went back for his last gun he found it impossible to move it among the exploding shells, so he spiked and abandoned it. As he struggled free of the mass of civilians with his last team, he saw a harrowing sight. ‘A young lady, a fugitive from Moscow, well-dressed and with striking looks, had managed to free herself from the mêlée and was moving ahead with great difficulty on the donkey she was riding, when a cannonball came and shattered the poor animal’s jaw,’ he wrote. ‘I cannot express the feeling of sorrow I carried away with me as I left that unfortunate woman, who would betimes become the prey and possibly the victim of the cossacks.’

In an effort to push back the Russian guns, the infantry made a number of exhausting bayonet attacks through the deep snow, in which hundreds perished. Colonel Tyndal’s Dutch Grenadiers, whom Napoleon used to call ‘the glory of Holland’, lost 464 men out of five hundred. The Young Guard was virtually sacrificed in the process of covering the withdrawal. The Russians kept out of musketshot and merely shelled them, but in the words of General Roguet, ‘they killed without vanquishing … for three hours these troops received death without making the slightest move to avoid it and without being able to return it’.

Luckily for the French, Kutuzov refused to reinforce the troops barring the road once he heard that it was Napoleon himself who was marching down it. Many on the Russian side felt a deep-seated reluctance to take him on, and preferred to stand by in awe. ‘As on the previous days, the Emperor marched at the head of his Grenadiers,’ recalled one of the few cavalrymen left in his escort. ‘The shells which flew over were bursting all round him without his seeming to notice.’ But this heroic day ended on a less solemn note as they reached Ladi late that afternoon. The approach to the town was down a steep icy slope. It was utterly impossible to walk down, so Napoleon, his marshals and his Old Guard had no option but to slide down it on their bottoms.

The Emperor struck a more serious tone the following day at Dubrovna, where he assembled his Guard and addressed the dense ranks of bearskins. ‘Grenadiers of my Guard,’ he thundered, ‘you are witnessing the disintegration of the army through a deplorable inevitability the majority of the soldiers have cast away their weapons. If you imitate this disastrous example, all hope is lost. The salvation of the army has been entrusted to you, and I know you will justify the good opinion I have of you. Not only must officers maintain strict discipline, but the soldiers too must keep a watchful eye and themselves punish those who would leave the ranks.’ The grenadiers responded by raising their bearskins on their bayonets and cheering.

Mortier made a similar speech to what was left of the Young Guard, which responded with shouts of ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ A little further back in the marching order, General Gérard applied more summary methods when a grenadier of the 12th of the Line dropped out of the ranks announcing that he would not fight any more. He rode up to the man, drew his pistol from the saddle holster and, cocking it, announced that he would blow his brains out if he did not return to his place at once. When the soldier refused to obey, the General shot him. He then made a speech, telling the men that they were not garrison troops but soldiers of the great Napoleon, and that consequently much was expected of them. They responded with shouts of ‘Vive l’Empereur! Vive le Général Gérard!’

Later on that same day, 19 November, Napoleon reached Orsha, where he hoped to be able to rally the remains of his army. The city was reasonably well stocked with provisions and arms. ‘A few days’ rest and good food, and above all some horses and artillery will soon put us right,’ he had written to Maret from Dubrovna the previous day. He issued a proclamation giving assembly points for each corps, warning that any soldier found in possession of a horse would have it taken away for the use of the artillery, that any excess baggage would be burnt, and that soldiers who had left their units would be punished. He himself took up position at the bridge over the Dnieper leading into the town, ordering excess private vehicles to be burnt and unauthorised soldiers to give up their mounts. He then posted gendarmes there to carry on in his place and to direct incoming men to their respective corps and inform them that they would be fed only if they rejoined the colours.

Watching the men streaming into town can only have heightened Napoleon’s anxiety over Ney, who seemed irretrievably lost. That evening he paced the room he had occupied in the former Jesuit convent, cursing Davout for not having waited for Ney and declaring that he would give every one of the three hundred million francs he had in the vaults of the Tuileries to get the Marshal back. His anxiety was shared by the whole army, which held the brave and forthright Ney in high esteem. ‘His rejoining the army from beyond Krasny seemed impossible, but if there was one man who could achieve the impossible, everyone agreed, it was Ney,’ recorded Caulaincourt. ‘Maps were unfolded, everyone pored over them, pointing out the route by which he would have to march if courage alone could not open the road.’

Ney had been the last to march out of Smolensk, amid harrowing scenes, on the morning of 17 November. He had been ordered by Napoleon to blow up the city fortifications, and his unfortunate aide-de-camp Auguste Breton was given the job of setting the charges and then visiting the hospitals in order to inform the inmates that the French were leaving. ‘Already the wards, the corridors and the stairs were full of the dead and dying,’ he recorded. ‘It was a spectacle of horror whose very memory makes me shudder.’ Dr Larrey had put up large notices in three languages begging for the wounded to be treated with compassion, but neither he nor they had any illusions. Many of them crawled out into the road, begging in the name of humanity to be taken along, terrified at the prospect of being left at the mercy of the cossacks.

Ney’s corps by now numbered some six thousand men under arms, and was followed by at least twice as many stragglers and civilians. He marched along a road strewn with the usual traces of retreat, but beyond Korytnia the following morning he found himself crossing what was patently the scene of a recent battle. And that afternoon, 18 November, he himself came face to face with Miloradovich, who, having failed to capture Prince Eugène and then Davout, was determined not to miss his third chance.

He sent an officer with a flag of truce calling on Ney to surrender, to which the latter answered that a Marshal of France never surrendered. Ney then drew up his forces, opened up with the six guns he had left, and launched a bold frontal assault on the Russian positions. It was carried out with such élan that it nearly succeeded in overrunning the Russian guns barring the way, but the French ranks were raked with canister shot and a countercharge by Russian cavalry and infantry sent them reeling back. Not to be deterred, Ney mounted a second attack, and his columns advanced with remarkable determination under a hail of canister shot. It was ‘a combat of giants’ in the words of General Wilson. ‘Whole ranks fell, only to be replaced by the next ones coming up to die in the same place,’ according to one Russian officer. ‘Bravo, bravo, Messieurs les Français,’ Miloradovich exclaimed to a captured officer. ‘You have just attacked, with astonishing vigour, an entire corps with a handful of men. It is impossible to show greater bravery.’

But before long the French were beaten back once again. Colonel Pelet, who was in the front rank with his 48th of the Line, was wounded three times and saw his regiment decimated. The neighbouring 18th of the Line was reduced from six hundred men to five or six officers and twenty-five or thirty men, and lost its eagle in the attack. Fezensac’s 4th lost two-thirds of its effectives. Woldemar von Löwenstern, who had been watching the proceedings from the Russian positions, galloped back to Kutuzov’s headquarters and announced that Ney would be their prisoner that night.

But this forty-three-year-old son of a barrel-maker from Lorraine was not so easily accounted for. Touchy and headstrong, Ney was furious when he realised that he had been left to fend for himself by Napoleon. ‘That b—has abandoned us he sacrificed us in order to save himself what can we do? What will become of us? Everything is f—ked!’ he ranted. But it would take more than that to shake his loyalty to Napoleon. And if he was not the most intelligent of Napoleon’s marshals, he was resourceful and certainly one of the bravest. After some discussion with his generals, he decided to try to give the Russians the slip by crossing the Dnieper, which flowed more or less parallel with the road some distance away, and then making for Orsha along its other bank, thus bypassing Miloradovich and putting the river between himself and the Russians.

While he made a show of settling down for the night, Ney sent a Polish officer to reconnoitre the banks of the Dnieper in search of a place to cross. A place was found, and that night, after having carefully stoked up enough bivouac fires to give the impression that the whole corps was camping there, Ney led the remainder of his force – not much more than a couple of thousand men – off the Smolensk – Orsha road and into the woods to the north of it. It was an exhausting and difficult march, particularly as he was still dragging his last few guns and as many supply wagons as he could through the deep snow. ‘None of us knew what would become of us,’ recalled Raymond de Fezensac. ‘But the presence of Marshal Ney was enough to reassure us. Without knowing what he intended to do or what he was capable of doing, we knew that he would do something. His self-confidence was on a par with his courage. The greater the danger, the stronger his determination, and once he had made his decision he never doubted its successful outcome. Thus it was that at such a moment his face betrayed neither indecision nor anxiety all eyes were upon him, but nobody dared to question him.’

They soon got lost and disoriented, but Ney spotted a gully which he assumed to be the bed of a stream. Digging through the snow they found ice, and when they broke that they saw from the direction of flow which way they must follow it. They eventually came to the Dnieper, which was covered with a coating of ice thick enough to take the weight of men and horses spaced out, but not to support large groups or cannon drawn by teams of horses.

The men began to cross, leaving spaces between each other, prodding the ice in front with their musket butts as it groaned ominously. ‘We slithered carefully one behind the other, fearful of being engulfed by the ice, which made cracking sounds at every step we took we were moving between life and death,’ in the words of General Freytag. As they reached the other bank, they came up against a steep and slippery incline. Freytag floundered helplessly until Ney himself saw him and, cutting a sapling with his sabre, stretched out a helping limb and pulled him up.

Some mounted men and then a few light wagons did get across, encouraging others to try but weakening the ice in the process. More wagons ventured onto it, including some carrying wounded men, but these foundered through the ice with sickening cracks. ‘All around one could see unfortunate men who had fallen through the ice with their horses, and were up to their shoulders in the water, begging their comrades for assistance which these could not lend without exposing themselves to sharing their unhappy fate,’ recalled Freytag ‘their cries and their moans tore at our hearts, which were already strongly affected by our own peril.’

All of the guns and some three hundred men were left behind on the south bank, but Ney had got over with the rest and soon found an unravaged village, well stocked with food, in which they settled down to rest. The following day they set off across country in a westerly direction. It was not long before Platov, who had been following the French retreat along the north bank of the river, located them and began to close in. Ney led his men into a wood, where they formed a kind of fortress into which the cossacks dared not venture. Platov could do no more than shell them with his light field-pieces mounted on sleigh runners, but this produced little effect.

At nightfall, Ney moved off again. They trudged through knee-deep snow, stalked by cossacks who sometimes got a clear enough field of fire to shell them. ‘A sergeant fell beside me, his leg shattered by a carbine shot,’ wrote Fezensac. ‘“I’m a lost man, take my knapsack, you might find it useful,” he cried. Someone took his knapsack and we moved off in silence.’ Even the bravest began to talk of giving up, but Ney kept them going. ‘Those who get through this will show they have their b—s hung by steel wire!’ he announced at one stage.

Unsure of his bearings, Ney sent a Polish officer ahead. The man eventually stumbled on pickets of Prince Eugène’s corps outside Orsha, and as soon as he was informed of Ney’s approach, Prince Eugène himself sallied forth to meet him. Eventually, Ney’s force, now not much more than a thousand men in the final stages of exhaustion as they stumbled through the night, heard the welcome shout of ‘Qui vive?’, to which they roared back: ‘France!’ Moments later Ney and Prince Eugène fell into each other’s arms, and their men embraced each other with joy and relief.


Napoleon retreats from Smolensk Edit

After departing from Moscow on October 18 with 100,000 combat-ready but undersupplied troops, Napoleon's strategic object was to quarter his army for the winter at the closest French supply depot, which was at Smolensk, 430 km (270 mi) to the west. Kutuzov had forced Napoleon after the Battle of Maloyaroslavets to retreat northwest over Mozhaisk to Smolensk on the devastated route of his advance that he had wished to avoid. During the three-week march to Smolensk, however, the Grande Armée was devastated by a combination of factors: starvation, demoralization, breakdown in troop discipline, a crippling loss of horses and essential supplies, attacks from the Russian army, constant harassment by its Cossack irregulars and partisans. [4]

The condition of the Grande Armée was further degraded by sub-zero temperatures in the first two weeks of November, see Minard's drawing. [5]

By the time the French arrived at Smolensk on November 9, the strategic situation in Russia had turned decisively against Napoleon. [6] Only 40% men of what was left of the Grande Armée was still under arms at this point. [7] The ravaged condition of his forces and French defeats on other fronts, Napoleon realized his position at Smolensk was untenable surrounded by Russian armies, threatening his retreat. [8] The new strategic goal was to put the Grande Armée into winter quarters further west, in the area of the massive French supply depot of Minsk. [9]

Having lost contact with Kutuzov during the previous two weeks, Napoleon incorrectly believed that the Russian army must have been as devastated by the elements as his own. [10] Not expecting an offensive by Kutuzov, Napoleon made the strategic mistake of resuming his retreat by dispatching the Grande Armée's corps individually from Smolensk on four successive days, starting on November 13. Napoleon left on 14th, Davout on 15th, Beauharnais on 16th, Ney on 17th, together with Joseph Barbanègre, the city commandant. Thus the French approached Krasny in a piecemeal 53 km (33 mi) long column of disconnected corps, not massed together in preparation for battle. [11]

On November 14, the corps of Józef Zajączek (V Corps) and Junot, as the vanguard of the retreating French army, passed through Krasny and continued marching west to Orsha. The next day, November 15, Napoleon himself arrived at Krasny with his 16,000-strong Imperial Guard. There Napoleon planned to remain for several days so that the 6,000 troops of Eugène's IV Corps, the 9,000 troops of Davout's I Corps, and the 8,000 troops of Ney's III Corps could unite with him before he resumed his retreat. Ney's corps formed the rearguard and was not to leave Smolensk until November 17, after destroying the city walls.

Marching between and around these French corps were nearly 40,000 troops who had disintegrated into mobs of unarmed, disorganized stragglers, looking for something else to eat than horsemeat.

Kutuzov's southern march Edit

During the same period, the main Russian army under Kutuzov followed the French on a parallel southern road. [12] Because this route passed through countryside unaffected by previous campaigning, the Russian army approached Krasny much less weakened by attrition than the Grande Armée. [13] See the strange detour Napoleon forced by Kutuzov marched with his army after the Battle of Maloyaroslavets. Also Kutuzov's army had to endure the same temperatures as Napoleon's army, see Minard's drawing.

Based on faulty intelligence reports, Kutuzov believed that only one third of the French army was retreating through Krasny toward Orsha, with Napoleon and the balance of his forces marching much farther to the north. [14] Kutuzov therefore accepted a plan proposed by his staff officer, Colonel Toll, to march on Krasny to destroy what was believed to be an isolated French column. [15]

The Russian position at Krasny began forming on November 15, when the 3,500-strong flying advance guard of Adam Ozharovsky seized the town. [15] The same day, the 16,000 troops of Miloradovich took position at Rshavka, a village located alongside the eastern road leading into Krasny. [16] Meanwhile, Kutuzov's 35,000-strong main force slowly approached Krasny from the south, taking position several miles away from the town. [17] It seems Bennigsen left the army.

In all, Kutuzov had 50,000 to 60,000 regular troops at his disposal at Krasny, including a large cavalry force and approximately 500 cannon. [15] Another 20,000 Cossack irregulars, operating mostly in small bands, supplemented the main army by harassing the French at all points along the 53 km (33 mi) long road from Smolensk to Krasny. Kutuzov's main body was divided into two columns. The larger force, led by General Alexander Tormasov, formed the left flank. The second column, commanded by Prince Dmitry Golitsyn, held the army's center. Miloradovich's position at Rshavka represented the Russian right flank.

November 15 saw the first actions in and around Krasny as the 16,000-strong Imperial Guard, led personally by Napoleon, marched past Miloradovich's troops, who were positioned on the high ground parallel to the road. Impressed by the order and composure of the elite guardsmen, Miloradovich decided not to attack them, and settled instead for bombarding the French at extreme range. [16] The Russian cannon fire inflicted little damage on the Guard, which continued moving toward Krasny. [16]

During the afternoon of the 15th, the Imperial Guard was harassed on the road between Nikolino and Lyskovo by the Cossacks of General Vasily Orlov-Denisov. The eyewitness description of this encounter by the Russian partisan leader Denis Davidov, which eloquently portrays the comportment of the Old Guard and Napoleon, has become one of the most often quoted in the histories of the 1812 war:

. after midday, we sighted the Old Guard, with Napoleon riding in their midst. the enemy troops, sighting our unruly force, got their muskets at the ready and proudly continued on their way without hurrying their step. Like blocks of granite, they remained invulnerable. I shall never forget the unhurried step and awesome resolution of these soldiers, for whom the threat of death was a daily and familiar experience. With their tall bearskin caps, blue uniforms, white belts, red plumes, and epaulettes, they looked like poppies on the snow-covered battlefield. Column followed upon column, dispersing us with musket fire and ridiculing our useless display of chivalry. the Imperial Guard with Napoleon ploughed through our Cossacks like a 100-gun ship through fishing skiffs. [18]

Later that day, Napoleon and his Guard entered Krasny, and his troops forced the withdrawal of the squadrons of Cossacks under Ozharovsky who were in possession of the village. [19] Napoleon promptly made plans to remain in Krasny for several days so that the rest of his army could catch up with him.

Shortly after midnight, Napoleon detected the campfires of Ozharovsky's 3,500-strong force near Kutkovo, south of Krasny. Recognizing that Ozharovsky's position was dangerously isolated from Kutuzov's main army, Napoleon dispatched the Young Guard on a surprise attack against the Russian encampment, which was not protected by pickets. The operation was first entrusted to General Jean Rapp, but at the last moment Napoleon replaced Rapp with General Roguet. François Roguet then divided the Guardsmen into three columns and began a silent advance on Ozharovsky's camp. In the ensuing combat, the Russians were taken completely by surprise and, despite their fierce resistance, were totally routed. As many as half of Ozharovsky's troops were killed or captured, and the remainder threw their weapons in a lake nearby Krasny and fled south. Lacking cavalry, Roguet was unable to pursue Ozharovsky's remaining troops. [20]

Miloradovich attacks Edit

The next day, November 16, however, went much better for the Russians as Miloradovich's soldiers cut the road leading to Krasny and inflicted heavy losses on the French corps of Prince Eugène de Beauharnais. In this skirmishing, Eugène's IV Corps lost one third of its original force of 6,000, as well as its baggage train and artillery. Eugène fooled the Russian general attacking his army on the left flank, but managed to escape the heights on right side and succeeded to connect with Napoleon and his Imperial Guard. He was saved from total destruction only because Kutuzov, who did not want the skirmishing to expand into a full-scale battle, ordered Miloradovich to restrain himself and reposition his troops closer to the main army at Shilova. [21] A force of Cossacks was left to harass Eugène while Miloradovich's final attack was postponed to the next day. [ citation needed ]

Kutuzov at Zhuli Edit

Earlier that day, Kutuzov's main army finally arrived within 8 km (5.0 mi) of Krasny, taking up positions around the villages of Novoselye and Zhuli. Kutuzov could have attacked Krasny immediately, but he chose not to.

That evening, under pressure from his aggressive subordinate generals to move decisively against the French, Kutuzov finally made plans for an offensive, but he firmly forbade his commanders from executing the attack until daylight on November 17, which meant the French would have the entire evening to evacuate Krasny unharassed by the Russians.

The Russian battle plan called for the army to execute a three pronged attack on Krasny. Miloradovich was to remain east of the village near Lyskovo, and attack Eugène's IV Corps and Davout's I Corps. The main army at Novoselye and Zhuli would break into two groups: Prince Golitsyn would advance directly west through Uvarovo against Krasny with 15,000 troops. Alexander Tormasov with 20,000 troops was to encircle Krasny from the west by marching through Kutkovo to Dobroye, where they would cut the French retreat route to Orsha. Ozharovsky's flying column—reinforced since its drubbing by the Young Guard—would operate independently west and north of Krasny.

Sometime after 1:00 a.m. on November 17, Kutuzov learned from prisoners that Napoleon would be remaining in Krasny, and not withdrawing before the Russian attack as Kutuzov had expected. Kutuzov now had second thoughts about executing the Russian army's planned offensive. [16]

Davout in peril Edit

At 3:00 a.m. on November 17, the 9,000 troops of Davout's I Corps decamped from their bivouac near Rzhavka and began a forced march to Krasny. The reports of Eugène's defeat the previous day were so dismaying that Davout felt it necessary to abandon his original plan of postponing his movement until Ney's III Corps, still at Smolensk, had caught up with him. [22]

Miloradovich, permitted by Kutuzov to recommence his attack, opened a massive artillery barrage on Davout near Yeskovo. The panicked French troops began fleeing from the road, and as Russian infantry and cavalry attacks were likely to follow, the I Corps was soon threatened with destruction. [23]

"The first corps was thus preserved, but we learned at the same time, that our rear-guard could no longer defend itself at Krasnoi that Ney was probably still at Smolensk, and that we must give up waiting for him any longer. Napoleon, however, still hesitated he could not determine on making this great sacrifice." [24]

Napoleon's gamble Edit

Davout's peril, and the distressing developments of the previous day had alerted Napoleon to the grave danger confronting the Grande Armée. Waiting for Davout and Ney in Krasny was no longer feasible, given that any kind of determined attack by Kutuzov would destroy the Grande Armée. The starving French troops also needed to reach their closest supply source 40 km (25 mi) west at Orsha—before the Russians captured the town ahead of him. [25]

At this critical juncture, Napoleon's sense of initiative returned to him for the first time in weeks. In Caulaincourt's words: "This turn of events, which upset all the Emperor's calculations. would have overwhelmed any other general. But the Emperor was stronger than adversity, and became the more stubborn as danger seemed more imminent." [25]

Immediately, before daylight, Napoleon prepared his Imperial Guard to make an aggressive feint against Miloradovich and the main Russian army, gambling that this unexpected maneuver would discourage the Russians from attacking Davout. The Grande Armée's remaining artillery was massed for combat, and the Guardsmen formed themselves into attack columns. [26]

Simultaneously, the remnant of Eugène's IV Corps was ordered to advance west from Krasny, to secure the Grande Armée's escape route to Orsha. [27]

Napoleon's hope was to fend off the Russians just long enough to collect Davout's and Ney's troops, and to immediately resume his retreat before Kutuzov attacked or outflanked him by moving on Orsha. [26]

The Guard advances Edit

At 5:00 a.m., 11,000 Imperial Guardsman marched out of Krasny intending to secure the terrain immediately east and southeast of the village. [28] These troops split into two columns: one 5,000 strong moving along the road to Smolensk, the other 6,000 Young Guardsmen led by Roguet, marching south of the road toward Uvarovo. [29] The left flank of the Young Guard's column was protected by a battalion of elite Old Guard grenadiers, described by Segur as forming a "fortress like square." [30] Stationed on the right of these columns were the weak remnants of the Guard's cavalry. [30] Overall direction of the operation was entrusted to Marshal Mortier. [31]

This bold, unexpected feint of the Guard was lent additional melodrama by the personal presence of Napoleon. With his birch walking stick in hand, Napoleon placed himself at the helm of his Old Guard grenadiers, declaring "I have played the Emperor long enough! It is time to play general!" [32]

Facing the tattered but resolute Imperial Guardsmen were densely concentrated Russian infantry columns to the south and east, supported by massive, powerful artillery batteries.

Lacking sufficient cannon of their own, the Guardsmen were badly outgunned by the enemy. As described by Segur: "Russian battalions and batteries barred the horizon on all three sides—in front, on our right, and behind us" [30]

Kutuzov's reaction to the Imperial Guard's forward movement led to the most decisive and controversial development of the battle: he promptly cancelled his army's planned offensive, even in spite of the Russians' overwhelming superiority in strength. [33]

For most of the rest of this day, the Russians remained at a safe distance from the Guard, beyond the reach of French muskets and bayonets, and simply blasted the enemy with cannon fire from afar.

Combat near Uvarovo Edit

The limited close quarters combat that did occur on this day unfolded throughout the morning and early afternoon around Uvarovo. The Imperial Guard attacked Uvarovo in order to use the village to cover Davout's retreat into Krasny.

Uvarovo was held by two battalions of Galitzin's infantry, which formed a weak forward outpost in advance of the rest of the Russian army. The Russians were soon driven from Uvarovo, as Kutuzov forbade Galitzin from reinforcing his troops. Galitzin reacted by commencing a devastating artillery barrage on Uvarovo, which took a terrible toll on the Young Guardsmen. [34]

Kutuzov, in order to mass as much strength as possible behind Galitzin, at this point ordered Miloradovich to shift his position west, so that it linked with Galitzin's lines. [34] Kutuzov's decision to realign Miloradovich's troops is remarkable, as the bulk of the Russian army—Galitzin's and Tormasov's commands—were already merged in a powerful defensive position. Miloradovich was thus denied the chance to complete the destruction of Davout.

Meanwhile, to the north, Davout's troops began streaming into Krasny, harassed by swarms of Cossacks who made no serious attempt to stop them. The Russian artillery continued to pound Davout's corps with grapeshot, inflicting ruinous casualties on the I Corps. Most of Davout's baggage train was lost, but a significant number of his infantrymen had been saved, and they were rallied by their officers in Krasny. [35]

Next, General Bennigsen, second in seniority only to Kutuzov among Russian generals, ordered Galitzin to recapture Uvarovo. Galitzin's attack was met by a simultaneous counterattack by a column of the Guard's voltigeurs. [34]

Galitzin attacked the voltigeurs with two regiments of cuirassiers the French formed squares and repelled the attack. During the third Russian attack they became trapped and without ammunition, and soon the entire contingent of Light Infantery was killed or captured the 33rd regiment light infantry ceased to exist. A second line of (Dutch) grenadiers, which had been advancing to support the voltigeurs, then fell back under heavy Russian cannon fire. The grenadiers were driven from a critical defensive position with massive casualties. [34] Roguet attempted to support the Dutch by attacking the Russian artillery batteries, but this offensive was broken up by Russian grapeshot and cavalry charges. Only fifty soldiers and eleven officers of the Grenadiers survived this encounter. [36]

Napoleon retreats Edit

Around 11:00 a.m., as the Imperial Guard was holding firm near Uvarovo despite its withering losses, Napoleon received intelligence reports that Tormasov's troops were readying to march west of Krasny. [37] This news, coupled with the Young Guard's mounting casualties, forced Napoleon to abandon his ultimate object of standing down Kutuzov long enough for Ney's III Corps to arrive in Krasny. If Kutuzov opted to attack, the Grande Armée would be encircled and destroyed. Napoleon immediately ordered the Old Guard to fall back on Krasny, and then join Eugène's IV Corps in marching west toward Liady and Orsha. The Young Guard, nearing its breaking point, would remain near Uvarovo, to be relieved shortly thereafter by Davout's reorganized troops from Krasny.

Napoleon's decision was not an easy one to make. Segur describes the beleaguered Emperor's predicament as follows:

So the 1st Corps was saved but at the same time we learned that our rear guard was at the end of its resistance at Krasny, that Ney had probably not left Smolensk yet, and that we ought to give up all idea of waiting for him. Still, Napoleon hesitated, unable to bring himself to make this great sacrifice. But finally, as everything seemed lost, he decided what to do. He called Mortier to him, took his hand kindly, and told him, 'There is not a minute to lose! The enemy is breaking through on every side. Kutuzov may reach Liady, even Orsha and the last bend of the Dnieper before me. I must move rapidly with the Old Guard to occupy that passage. Davout will relieve you. Together you must try to hold out at Krasny until nightfall. Then you will rejoin me.' His heart heavy with despair at having to abandon the unfortunate Ney, he withdrew slowly from the field of battle, entered Krasny where he made a brief halt, then cut his way through as far as Liady [38]

In short order, the Old Guard was following the IV Corps moving west out of Krasny, and the road to Orsha was clogged with soldiers and their wagonry. Huge mobs of civilians, fugitives, and stragglers preceded the retreating French troops. [39]

Meanwhile, near Uvarovo the Young Guard's capacity to resist the Russians was deteriorating rapidly, and Mortier ordered a retreat before his remaining troops were surrounded and destroyed. As if on parade ground drill, the perfectly disciplined Guardsmen then turned about face and marched back to Krasny, absorbing a final, terrible barrage of Russian cannonshot as they retired. [40]

Only 3,000 of the Young Guard's original 6,000 troops had survived the Russian shelling near Uvarovo. November 17 may have been the bloodiest day in the Young Guard's entire history.

The Young Guard's retreat did not end once it returned to Krasny. Mortier and Davout were so wary of the possibility that the inert Kutuzov might attack that they immediately joined the throng of troops, mobs and wagons rushing that moment to Liady. Only a weak rearguard under General Friedrich was left to hold Krasny. Ney's III Corps, having departed Smolensk only that morning, would not find Davout's I Corps in Krasny awaiting him.

Kutuzov delays the pursuit Edit

Miloradovich and Galitzin were not permitted by Kutuzov to attack Krasny for several more hours. [41]

At 2:00 p.m., satisfied that the French were in full retreat and not intending to resist his troops' advance, Kutuzov finally allowed Tormasov to begin his enveloping movement west through Kutkovo and north to Dobroye. It would take Tormasov two hours to reach his destination, however, by which time the opportunity to encircle and destroy the Grande Armée would be past. [42]

Sometime around 3:00 p.m., Galitzin's troops rushed into Krasny like a torrent, and Friedrich's rearguard quickly crumbled.

Simultaneously, on the western road to Liady, the French initially encountered an ambush by the small detachments of Ozharovsky and Rosen. A bedlam of exploding grapeshot, overturned wagons, careening carriages, and mobs of fugitives rushing in panic ensued. But the troops of Cobert and Latour-Maubourg forced the Russians aside, and Napoleon was finally marching on Orsha. [43]

The final noteworthy event of the day occurred in Dobroye, when the hind end of the I Corps baggage train, including Davout's personal carriages, fell to the Cossacks. Among the booty captured by the Russians were Davout's war chest, a plethora of maps of the Middle East, Central Asia and India, and Davout's Marshal baton. [44]

By nightfall on November 17, Kutuzov had occupied Krasny and its surroundings with his 70,000 troops. Marshal Ney, still advancing on Krasny from the east, was not yet aware the Grande Armée was no longer in Krasny to receive his III Corps.

At 3:00 p.m. on November 18, Ney's III Corps finally made contact with Miloradovich, who had posted 12,000 troops on a hill overlooking a ravine [45] with the marshy brook Losvinka. Ney had 8,000 combatants and 7,000 stragglers under his command at this point. [46]

Believing that Davout was still in Krasny, directly behind Miloradovich's columns, Ney turned down a Russian offer of honorable surrender, and boldly attempted to ram his way through the enemy. The dogged French troops then succeeded in piercing the first two lines of Russian infantry. [47] The third line, however, proved indomitable, and at the decisive moment, the Russians counterattacked (the battle at the brook Losvinka). [48] An eyewitness to this engagement, the English General Sir Robert Wilson, describes it thus:

Forty pieces of cannon loaded with grape, simultaneously on the instant, vomited their flames and poured their deadly shower on the French assailants. The Russians most in advance, shouting their "hurra", sprang forward with fixed bayonets, and without firing a musket. A sanguinary but short struggle ensued the enemy could not maintain their footing, and were driven headlong down the ravine. The brow and sides of the hill were covered with French dead and dying, all the Russian arms were dripping with gore, and the wounded, as they lay bleeding and shivering on the snow, called for "death", as the greatest mercy that could be ministered in their hopeless state. [45]

The terrible defeat of the III Corps was thorough enough to induce the chivalrous Miloradovich to extend another honorable surrender to Ney. In the early evening Ney decided to escape silently passing the Russians and following the brook Losvinka. When the Cossacks appeared during the night Ney succeeded to cross the Dnieper, one by one, but lost a thousand men in the ice-cracks when crossing the river, leaving his guns and carriages behind. The elements and the Cossacks reduced Ney's contingent to only 800 diehards.

For the next two days Ney's small party bravely stood off Cossack attacks as it marched westward along the river in search of Napoleon's army. Again, Ney refused to submit, and with 2,000 refugees—all that remained of his corps—he absconded into the forests pursued by Platov's Cossacks. [49] On November 20, Ney and Napoleon were reunited near Orsha, an event which the demoralized French troops regarded as the emotional equivalent of a great victory. [50]

At Krasny, Ney's steely courage in defeat immortalized him in the annals of military history, leading Napoleon to bestow upon him the sobriquet of "Bravest of the Brave."

Total French losses in the Krasny skirmishes are estimated between 6,000 and 13,000 killed and wounded, with another 20,000 to 26,000 lost as prisoners to the Russians. [51] Almost all of the French prisoners were stragglers. The French also lost close to 130 artillery pieces and a huge portion of their supply train. Russian losses are estimated to have been no more than 5,000 killed and wounded.

Significant however was that Napoleon successfully led 75% of the combatants of the I and IV Corps and the Imperial Guard out of Krasny, thus salvaging his hope of using these troops as a nucleus around which he could rebuild his army the following year.

Krasny was a Russian victory, but a highly unsatisfactory one. Tsar Alexander I was enraged with Kutuzov upon learning of the old field marshal's failure to totally destroy the French. Nonetheless, owing to Kutuzov's immense popularity with the Russian aristocracy, Alexander gave him the victory title of Prince of Smolensk for what had been accomplished in this battle.

The sources are unclear as to why Kutuzov did not decide to annihilate the last remaining French troops during the offensive. Russian military historian General Nikolay Mikhnevich [ru] pointed to Kutuzov's unwillingness to risk the lives of his exhausted and frostbitten troops and cited the words of the field marshal, "All that [the French army] will collapse without me". [52] General Robert Wilson, the British liaison officer attached to the Russian Army, recorded Kutuzov as having commented in late 1812,

I prefer giving my enemy a 'pont d'or' [golden bridge], as you call it, to receiving a 'coup de collier' [blow born of desperation]: besides, I will say, as I have told you before, that I am by no means sure that the total destruction of the Emperor Napoleon and his army would be of such benefit to the world his succession would not fall to Russia or any other continental power, but to that which commands the sea, and whose domination would then be intolerable. [53]

Leo Tolstoy references the battle in his War and Peace. [54] : 635,638

Napoleon Retreats From Moscow - History

English Language and History

Selected and prepared for people

Military March for the Yurevsky Regiment in B-Flat Major (arr. for Wind Ensemble)
Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Note: The recording at Amazon and the recording on YouTube may not be the same.

FROM the days of Peter the Great, Russia’s Emperors looked admiringly towards the political and cultural world of Western Europe, and Tsar Alexander I was no exception. Even the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, in which Russian and Austrian forces were overwhelmingly defeated by Napoleon Bonaparte, only made Alexander admire the French Emperor the more and on July 7th, 1807, master and disciple met aboard a raft moored in the River Nemen near Sovetsk, to share out Europe between them.*

The understanding did not last. Alexander hesitated to place the economic sanctions on Britain demanded by Napoleon and to remind the Tsar of his loyalties, Napoleon led the Grand Army towards Russia in June 1812. At first it seemed a masterstroke. The Russians retreated before him as far as Smolensk,* offering no resistance, though the French found the city a burnt-out shell. The two armies clashed at Borodino, west of Moscow, on September 7th,* but after a day of savage bloodshed the Russians retreated again.


The snow came down, men froze, and horses starved. The last lap of the almost two-month trek back to Vilnius, was the worst of all. The soldiers barely managed the crossing of the Berezina River - over two frail bridges - and there were perhaps as only as few as 50,000 half-stunned survivors of the Grand Army who, harried by Cossacks, tottered on through icy temperatures towards the town. Man after man 'did a bear', tumbling with his haggard face downwards into a snow-filled ditch, never to rise again.

Napoleon's harrowing retreat from Moscow © On the icy morning of 9 December 1812, outside Vilnius's deep vaulted gate, Victor Dupuy (now a colonel) had to be prevented by his few surviving comrades from sitting down and dying, 'overcome by lassitude and drowsiness, gripped by the frost'. Another (Belgian) officer, Francois Dumonceau, had to lead his horse over:

'a veritable moving mountain, more than 2 metres deep, of dead and dying, pushing, shoving, hemmed in on all sides, at each step risking being thrown down by the convulsive spasms of those we were trampling underfoot.'

Some of these unfortunates certainly ended up in the mass grave discovered in 2002. And there are sure to be other graves, too, as yet undiscovered. Probably as many as a half of the starving survivors who had managed to reach Vilnius died once they got there. They may have over-eaten, in their desperation to assuage their hunger, or drunk themselves silly. Many had frost-bitten noses, toes or fingers, which turned gangrenous. Some died of exhaustion or cold almost on arrival. As for lodgings, 'the stronger drove out the weaker', so that many a soldier, especially those with no Moscow gold to pay with, froze to death on an inhospitable doorstep.

Others again simply refused to go on, or were captured by the Cossacks - who had harried them throughout their retreat, and had starved the army to death by keeping it to one narrow highway. The prisoners were driven naked all the way back again into Russia.

Who else pillaged, burned and occupied Moscow besides Napoleon?

The first time Moscow was pillaged and burned happened during the Mongol invasion of Russia, long before the city became the capital of the country. An average city of the Vladimir Principality back then, Moscow was besieged by the Mongols in 1238.

During the five-day siege, the Muscovites even made a successful attack against the enemy. Outraged, the Mongols captured and burned the city and literally cut the local garrison's commander into pieces.

Khan Tokhtamysh&rsquos campaign

Although Moscow Prince Dmitry Donskoy&rsquos victory over the Mongols at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380 was a significant step in Russian liberation from the Mongol rule, ultimate victory was still a remote possibility. The Mongols were still a powerful force to be reckoned with, and they proved this two years later.

In 1382, the Mongol Khan Tokhtamysh invaded the Russian principalities and rapidly and unexpectedly arrived at Moscow&rsquos walls. The main Russian force led by Prince Dmitry were then out of Moscow, and the city fell into panic .

The Mongols tricked the Muscovites by offering to negotiate and sending envoys. When the embassy entered the city&rsquos gates, the main Mongol forces quickly followed, broke into the city and started a massacre.

The devastation was enormous. The Mongols took everything of value and burned the city. When Dmitry Donskoy returned to Moscow, he was shocked by the sight of the city streets strewn with corpses.

Devlet Geray&rsquos raid

Apollinary Vasnetsov/Kostroma State Historical-Architectural and Art Museum-Reserve

By the 16th century the mighty Mongol state - the Golden Horde - had sunk into oblivion, and the fast-growing Russian state had to deal with its fragments - numerous Khanates and Hordes. These small states, however, were still capable of making the occasional punitive raid.

In 1571, Russia found itself embroiled in the Livonian War (1558-1583), and most of the Russian troops were occupied with fighting Swedish and Polish-Lithuanian forces in the Baltic. The Crimean Khan Devlet I Giray decided that this was a perfect opportunity to pillage the Russian lands.

He easily marched on Moscow, and burned nearby villages and the city&rsquos outskirts. The fire immediately spread across Moscow. Devlet abandoned plans to storm the Kremlin, and after capturing tens of thousands of prisoners returned to Crimea.

Inspired by this success, the Khan even proposed that Ottoman Sultan Selim II should conquer the Russian state. Nevertheless, these plans collapsed after the joint Crimean-Ottoman army suffered a colossal defeat at the Battle of Molodi not far from Moscow in 1572.

Polish-Lithuanian intervention

Political crisis and widespread famine in the early 17th century led to the so-called Times of Troubles in the Russian state. The country was torn apart by different political groups and movements, and suffered heavily from foreign interventions.

The most successful foreign force in Russia was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Polish troops took an active part in all civil conflicts, supporting and exploiting different pretenders to the throne.

In 1610, the Poles defeated the troops of Russian Tsar Vasily IV, who was deposed soon after. The Russian nobility offered the throne to the Polish prince Vladislav Vasa. Without facing any resistance, Polish-Lithuanian troops led by Stanisław Żółkiewski entered the city and occupied the Kremlin.

Despite the Poles&rsquo promise not to include Russia in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and harm the Orthodox religion, they started to act as conquerors and soon caused major public discontent.

A widespread anti-Polish movement was initiated across the country. The Polish garrison was besieged in the Kremlin, and after deblockade attempts failed, it surrendered in 1612.

The liberation of Moscow didn&rsquot mean the end of the war, which lasted six more years. As for Vladislav Vasa, he rejected his claim to the Russian throne only in 1634.

The Grande Armée in Moscow

200 years after the Poles left Moscow, they exacted their revenge. Polish soldiers of the 5th Corps in Napoleon&rsquos Grand Armée were among the first to enter Moscow in 1812.

The Russian commanders decided to abandon Moscow after the high army casualties suffered at the Battle of Borodino. When on September 14 Napoleon entered the city, he found it almost completely deserted.

The French emperor had been awaiting any initiative to start negotiations from the Russian side, but instead the Russians set fire to most of Moscow, destroying large parts of the city. The French responded with mass executions and looting.

After just one month, facing the prospect of winter, Napoleon decided to abandon the city and retreat. Achieving nothing, the Grand Armée started the long, tortuous journey home, which effectively led to its ruin.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

One of history&rsquos worst decisions was that of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to invade Russia in 1812. At that start of that year, Napoleon bestrode Europe like a Colossus, and was at the height of his power. Then he invaded Russia with about 658,000 men &ndash at the time, the biggest army ever assembled. By year&rsquos end, Napoleon had endured a catastrophic defeat, lost most of his men, and began the downward slide that would culminate two years later in his exile to St. Helena.

The Russian debacle was the result of not just one bad decision, but a whole series of bad decisions. The first bad decision was Napoleon&rsquos poor choice of subordinates. His goal was to bend the Tsar to his will by decisively defeating the Russian army as soon as possible. However, Napoleon appointed his unqualified stepson, Prince Eugene, to a major command. Early in the campaign, Napoleon maneuvered the Russians into a situation in which they would be forced to give battle, only for his inexperienced stepson to screw up and allow the Russians to retreat.

Napoleon then plunged into Russia, chasing after the Tsar&rsquos army. The Russians retreated for hundreds of miles, refusing to give battle and scorching the countryside behind them. The Emperor had planned to halt at Smolensk, go into winter quarters, and resume the campaign the following year. Once in Smolensk, however, Napoleon committed his second mistake, by deciding to continue on to Moscow.

The Russians finally turned around and offered Napoleon battle at Borodino, near Moscow. Napoleon won a tough fight, but at the decisive moment, he made his third bad decision by wavering, and refrained from his usual tactic of sending in the elite Imperial Guard, kept in reserve, to finish off the reeling enemy. That prevented the victory from becoming decisive, and allowed the battered Russians to live to fight another day.

Napoleon marched into Moscow, and assumed that the Russians would sue for peace, now that he held their capital. He made his fourth bad decision by waiting in Moscow for Russian peace feelers, as winter drew near. The Russians strung Napoleon along, but no more than Napoleon strung himself along with wishful thinking of a negotiated peace, long after it became clear that the Russians were not interested. By the time he accepted that there would be no peace and marched back to Smolensk, it was too late, and his unprepared army was caught by winter during the retreat.

That was exacerbated by Napoleon&rsquos final bad decision, in his choice of route. Napoleon had the choice of two routes, and ended up taking the one that was struck by severe winter storms. The route he did not take saw little snow that year. Most of Napoleon&rsquos army starved or froze to death, or were killed by Cossacks who harried the rear and flanks of the retreating columns.

The French Emperor had marched into Russia with a Grande Armee numbering 685,000 soldiers. He came out with only 35,000 Frenchmen still under his command, with the remainder either dead (over 400,000), deserting, or switching sides. Reflecting upon the Russian disaster, Napoleon commented: &ldquoFrom the sublime to the ridiculous, is only one step&ldquo.

On Nightlife with Suzanne Hill

Napoleon's ill fated invasion of Russia turned out to be the turning point in his military career, with his apparent invincibility was match for the Russian Army's tactics, or Russia's bitter winter weather.

Gavin Daly, a Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Tasmania explained what Napoleon was doing in Russia, and why it was such a disaster, to Suzanne Hill in This Week in History.

Nightlife: featuring museum curators and Napoleon's Russian Winter



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Kutuzov’s gambit: How Moscow became a trap for Napoleon

Sept. 13, 1812. The village of Fili near Moscow witnessed a tense meeting between 10 or so high-ranking Russian officials who had gathered in a wooden hut. They were debating whether to allow the enemy &ndash Napoleon Bonaparte &ndash to enter Moscow, the former Russian capital.

The decision was tough. Giving up the city to the French meant disgrace, but trying to defend it would have led to further suffering: The exhausted Russian army had already lost around 45,000 soldiers during the Battle of Borodino the week before.

An abandoned city

Napoleon's Grand Armee catching sight of Moscow, 1812.

Early 20th century book illustration/Global Look Press

After much deliberation, General Mikhail Kutuzov &ndash Russia&rsquos commander-in-chief &ndash ordered a retreat. He prioritized saving his forces over hanging on to Moscow. &ldquoYour Majesty, Napoleon entering Moscow does not mean him conquering Russia yet,&rdquo he wrote to Emperor Alexander I.

Bonaparte&rsquos army, known as the Grand Armée, entered the city on Sept. 14 without resistance. This was the first time Moscow had been captured by a foreign enemy in 200 years (in 1612 it was invaded by the Poles). But by the time Napoleon set up camp the place was almost empty: Only around 6,000 people from Moscow&rsquos 275,000 population remained.

No respect, only fire

Just before storming Moscow, Napoleon had waited on the outskirts expecting the Russians to surrender officially, but none came. Instead he was informed that the city was up for grabs &ndash hardly anyone was there. So he marched right into Emperor Alexander I&rsquos residence in the Kremlin.

However, as the French entered the once heavily defended stronghold, fires started to rage all over the city. The exact cause of the blazes is still not known for sure , but Napoleon blamed Moscow&rsquos Governor-General Fyodor Rostopchin for the apparent sabotage. Some Russians historians believe the fires may have started accidentally &ndash as people desperately fled the city.

In any case, the flames put a spanner in the works of Napoleon&rsquos celebrations, and he was forced to leave the Kremlin and find a cooler place to set up shop. &ldquoWhat a horrible spectacle! What people! They are barbarous Scythians!&rdquo he reportedly shouted at French general Philippe Paul de Ségur.

French life in Moscow

Vasily Vereshchagin, "At the Stage. Bad News from France", 1887-1895, oil on canvas.

State Historical Museum, Russia/Global Look Press

Around three-quarters of predominantly wooden Moscow was burnt to the ground &ndash the fires lasted until Sept.18. The French leader encouraged his 100,000-strong army to roam free in the city, but things got out of control and the bored men looted and chaos ensued.

The few thousand Muscovites who had refused to leave put up a fight despite being heavily outnumbered, killing scores of French in the process.

Life for the invaders was only getting harder: Russia&rsquos harsh winter was rapidly closing in and the army was running low on supplies. Peasants living in the agricultural areas outside the city were reluctant to supply the French with food.

In addition to that, Napoleon had to rethink his strategy and decided against mobilizing his army to capture St. Petersburg. His men simply did not have the energy to journey north, let alone a potential onslaught by Kutuzov&rsquos forces.

Inglorious retreat

Napoleon on horseback in retreat from Moscow, 1812.

Mary Evans Picture Library/Global Look Press

Napoleon was entering foreign territory: The prospect of defeat. While in Moscow he wrote to Alexander I no more than three times proposing peace: he wanted Russia to join the Continental Blockade against Britain. His demands were ignored.

Eventually, he had no choice but to retreat and by mid-October 1812 the French started to march west to the territory between Dnepr and Dvina rivers to set up camp for the winter.

Enraged by the situation, Napoleon ordered his engineers to blow up the Kremlin upon his departure, but they only managed to destroy one tower. Moscow&rsquos heart may have been damaged, but it was not broken &ndash like Russia.

As for Kutuzov&rsquos army, it managed to cut off supplies to the Grand Armée, turning its retreat into complete hell. With little to eat and severely unprepared for the winter, Napoleon's forces drew back all the way to Paris suffering heavy losses along the way. Napoleon was just a human after all.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.


War and Peace followed the success of such literary adaptations as The Forsyte Saga (BBC2, 1967). [3]

Charlie Knode designed the costumes. [4]

The production took three years (1969–72) and involved location filming in SR Serbia and at English stately homes. Soldiers of the Yugoslav Territorial Defense appeared as extras in battle scenes. [5]

    as Pierre Bezukhov as Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky as Natasha Rostova as Maria Bolkonskaya as Count Ilya Rostov as Countess Natalie Rostova as Napoleon Bonaparte as Mikhail Kutuzov as Nikolai Rostov as Sonya as Platon Karataev as Tsar Alexander I of Russia as Barclay de Tolly as Hélène Kuragina, wife of Pierre Bezukhov as Prince Nikolay Bolkonsky, father of Andrei and Marya
  • Athene Fielding as Mademoiselle Bourienne, companion to Marya
  • Barnaby Shaw and Rufus Frampton as Petya Rostov as Pfuhl as Joseph Fouché as Napoleon's secretary as General Balashev
  • Toby Bridge as young Nikolenka Bolkonsky as Boris Drubetskoy
  • Anne Blake as Princess Drubetskoya as Denisov as Dolokhov as Marshal Davout as Russian officer as Anatole Kuragin as Prince Vasili Kuragin
  • Josie Kidd as Katishe as German adjutant
  • Gerard Hely as Prince Murat as Lt. Berg
  • Will Leighton as Tikhon as Vera Rostova, married to Berg
  • Alison Frazer as Princess Lisa Bolkonskya as Count Rostopchin as Marshal Berthier as French Sergeant as French Captain as Prokofy as Mitenka
  • Richard Poore as French messenger as Anna Scherer
  • Karin MacCarthy as Julie Karagin as Pavel as Timohin
  • Hubert Cross as General Rapp
  • Geoffrey Denton as Host as Prince Bagration as Galitsyn
  • John Lawrence as Anna's guest
  • Judith Pollard as Olga
  • Edith Sharpe as Madame Scherer as French Corporal as Gerasim
No. TitleOriginal air date
1"Name Day"30 September 1972 ( 1972-09-30 )
1805. The Rostovs celebrate the name day of Natasha and Countess Rostova. The family of the dying Count Bezukhov fret over who will inherit.
2"Sounds of War"7 October 1972 ( 1972-10-07 )
Pierre Bezukhov comes to terms with his large inheritance and life in high society. Andrei Bolkonsky leaves his pregnant wife and goes away to war
3"Skirmish at Schöngraben"14 October 1972 ( 1972-10-14 )
Napoleon's armies make rapid progress across Europe, winning a victory at Schöngrabern.
4"A Letter and Two Proposals"21 October 1972 ( 1972-10-21 )
The Rostov family receive news of war from Nikolai. Vasili Kuragin tries to marry his daughter to Pierre and his son to Maria Bolkonskaya.
5"Austerlitz"28 October 1972 ( 1972-10-28 )
Preparations are take place for the Battle of Austerlitz.
6"Reunions"4 November 1972 ( 1972-11-04 )
Nikolai Rostov returns home from war Pierre struggles in his marriage.
7"New Beginnings"11 November 1972 ( 1972-11-11 )
1807. Pierre suspects his wife of infidelity. France and Russia make peace at Tilsit.
8"A Beautiful Tale"18 November 1972 ( 1972-11-18 )
Andrei visits the Rostovs. Tsar Alexander I attends a ball, and romance blossoms between Andrei and Natasha.
9"Leave of Absence"25 November 1972 ( 1972-11-25 )
Andrei proposes to Natasha. Nikolai Rostov returns for extended leave.
10"Madness"2 December 1972 ( 1972-12-02 )
Natasha Rostova pays a visit to the Bolkonskys.
11"Men of Destiny"9 December 1972 ( 1972-12-09 )
1812: Napoleon invades Russia. Pierre cannot decide whether to join the army or not.
12"Fortunes of War"16 December 1972 ( 1972-12-16 )
The French advance and the Russians retreat Nikolai rescues Maria from a peasant uprising.
13"Borodino"23 December 1972 ( 1972-12-23 )
The citizens of Moscow are forced to decide whether to abandon the city or not. At Borodino both sides take heavy losses.
14"Escape"30 December 1972 ( 1972-12-30 )
The aftermath of Borodino. The Rostovs evacuate wounded soldiers from Moscow – Andrei among them.
15"Moscow!"6 January 1973 ( 1973-01-06 )
Napoleon takes Moscow, but the war is not won yet. Pierre imagines that he is destined to kill the Emperor.
16"Two Meetings"13 January 1973 ( 1973-01-13 )
Nikolai must decide between Maria and Sonya. Natasha nurses the dying Andrei.
17"Of Life and Death"20 January 1973 ( 1973-01-20 )
Pierre is arrested Sonya writes a letter releasing Nikolai.
18"The Retreat"27 January 1973 ( 1973-01-27 )
Napoleon retreats from Moscow. Pierre is caught up in the trek with French soldiers and comes close to death.
19"The Road to Life"1 February 1973 ( 1973-02-01 )
Maria tries to rouse Natasha out from her mourning. Pierre returns home.
20"An Epilogue"8 February 1973 ( 1973-02-08 )
1820. Pierre and Natasha are married with children, while the Nikolai-Maria-Sonya triangle is resolved.

According to Dr. Lez Cooke in British Television Drama: A History (2003), War and Peace consolidated BBC2 as the channel responsible for 'quality' literary drama. [6]

In The New Yorker in 2016, Louis Menand wrote "It drags in parts today, but in 1972 no one had seen television that grand or ambitious before. The length—almost fifteen hours—meant the series could include scenes, like the wolf hunt, or Denisov dancing the mazurka, that are dramatically superfluous but thematically vital. The acting is inspired, in part because the casting was inspired, from Anthony Hopkins, as Pierre, to David Swift, as a pint-sized, swaggering Napoleon. Everyone looks just the way he or she’s supposed to look." [7]

Clive James criticised some performances: "I was cruel to Morag Hood when I said that her performance made me want to throw a tarpauline over her and peg down the corners. I should have blamed the director, who had obviously told her to bounce up and down at all times in order to convey exuberance. [. ] In that same production, Alan Dobie as Andrei was grim enough to send you to sleep, but Anthony Hopkins was a perfect Pierre: a real tribute to his acting, because his default mode is to be in command." [8]

Paul Mavis (DVD Talk) awarded it 4 stars, saying "it positively luxuriates in its expansive format, giving the viewer a remarkable chance to fully experience the various nuances of character and the myriad permutations of shifting relationships (as well as Tolstoy's numerous plot coincidences) that mark this mammoth work." He praised Alan Dobie as "uniformed in Byronic splendor [. ] spot-on as the dour, heroic, closed-off Andrei Bolkonsky.", also praising Angela Down (Maria) and Sylvester Morand (Nikolai). However, he criticised Hood's performance, saying "the casting of Morag Hood (which, according to the production history included in this DVD set, was a desperate, last-minute decision) is a distressing misfire. [. ] poor Hood can't begin to approach the character with even a modicum of believability. Natasha begins the story as a wild, impetuous girl of thirteen - an age and a temperament that Hood evidently felt needed to be delineated by having Natasha laugh insanely at everything while leaping about like a mad thing (Hood is also far too old to be a believable 13-year-old). As for later maturing into this bewitching, erotic little beauty whom all men adore, either an actress has that innate, inexplicable quality or they don't - you can't "act" that powerful allure onto the screen. It has to come from within, and simply put, Hood doesn't have it." [9]

Andrew D. Kaufman, in his book Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times said that this version had "much to recommend", although he preferred the 1966–67 Soviet film. [10] James Monaco called it "easily the best adaptation [. ] in any medium" in How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media, Multimedia: Language, History, Theory (1977). [11]

The series was released in a Region 2 4-DVD boxset by DD Home Entertainment in 2005. The set is accompanied by an illustrated booklet, written by Andy Priestner, which provides a detailed account of how the series was made. In 2009 Simply Home Entertainment released a 5-disc edition with 200 production stills.

Watch the video: Η υποχώρηση από τη Μόσχα 1812 (August 2022).