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John Sloan

This is a brief summary of one of the most momentous and widely studied military campaigns. The following are the main references used. Rather than make the same comment repeatedly, I will point out here that in matters of transliteration of Russian names one encounters the wildest and most fanciful renditions in most of these English language references.


_______ 1812 Borodinskaya Panorama, Moscow, Izobrazitel'noye iskusstvo, 1985. A small but excellent book containing a great many illustrations of scenes during the campaign.

Austin, Paul Britten, 1812 - The March on Moscow, London, Greenhill, 1993

Austin, Paul Britten, 1812 - Napoleon in Moscow, London, Greenhill, 1995

Austin, Paul Britten, 1812 - The Great Retreat, London, Greenhill, 1996

This is an extraordinary book (or trilogy) in every respect. It is must reading for students of this campaign, but also essential for everyone interested in the nature of warfare itself. The author has studied hundreds of primary and secondary references on the campaign and then selected about 160 eyewitness accounts of participants on the French side. Some of these are daily diaries, written on the spot. Others are memoirs prepared shortly after the war, while others were accounts written from memory many years later. Some are personal letters home and others are official staff orders and correspondence. All ranks are included, from Napoleon himself and his most senior advisors, to the lowest rankers in front line units. He has woven these into a seamless tapestry that unfolds like a moving picture day by day, week by week, as the most massive military machine yet assembled at that time slides, slowly at first, then more rapidly but inexorable into the abyss. That the "Grand Army" contained so many different nationalities, whose accounts are woven together in these word pictures, enables the author to create an exceptionally rich and variegated pattern. The author does not intrude unnecessarily into the painting, but his excellent commentary as he moves the story along from scene to scene provides plenty of judicious analysis as well. He calls attention whenever one eye-witness seems to contradict another. Although such a portrait can only be painted from one side, Austin manages to interpolate enough information about the Russian side so the reader is well appraised on what is going on across the front lines. Still, one has to wish that eventually someone will provide us with something at least somewhat comparable painted from the Russian point of view.

Beskrovni, L. Atlas karti skhyem po russkoi voyennoi istorii, Moscow, Voyenni isdatelstvo, 1946. This excellent collection of campaign and battle maps plus schematic diagrams covers Russian military history from ancient times to the Russo-Japanese War.

Cartwright, Frederick, Disease and History, New York, Thomas Crowell, 1972. There is one chapter in this comprehensive discussion of the effect of many different diseases on the course of human events throughout history. In this case it is typhus and the focus is on the 1812 campaign. Most accounts note the high losses the French suffered from sickness without providing much detail. Cartwright describes typhus and its causes and effects during the opening stages of the campaign. But one wishes he had provided more details and statistics. To round out the chapter he discusses also Napoleon's personal medical history and problems. He states that Napoleon was suffering from a severe bout of cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) during the battle at Borodino, as well as from a heavy cold. Cartwright also speculates on the causes of the Emperor's death years later.

Britt, Albert S. The Wars of Napoleon, West Point Military History Series, Thomas Griess series editor, Wayne New Jersey, Avery Publishing, 1985. with Atlas. There is a 20 page chapter on the 1812 campaign. This is an adequate overview of the campaign with only a few minor errors noted. The maps are helpful, but not up to the quality found in the 1964 version, see Elting.

Cate, Curtis, The War of the Two Emperors, New York, Random House, 1985. The title indicates the author's intention, to counter the conception promoted by Tolstoy in War and Peace that war is a struggle of impersonal forces in which hardly any role is played by individual leaders. Cate used extensive Russian sources to provide the most balanced treatment of this campaign available. The narrative of events is clear and excellent. The author presents his assessments of events, their actors, and individual motivations throughout. He includes everything from the diplomatic and grand strategic level down to details of individual activities and battle tactics, often illustrated with gripping anecdotes provided by eye witnesses. The description of the campaign itself does not start until Chapter 10 on page 132, which shows the amount of background detail the author believes necessary to explain the following events. As is too often the case, the maps are insufficient. The text presumes an extensive knowledge of geography. The military descriptions of battles are excellent also, but presume considerable knowledge of tactics, military organization and order of battle.

Chandler, David, The Campaigns of Napoleon, New York, MacMillan Co, 1966. In his unsurpassed study of Napoleon's military career, David Chandler allocates 122 pages to the campaign in Russia. The narrative is compressed, but clear. The most valuable part is the author's analysis, and his critique of both sides including the many errors each committed. There are a few editorial slips, such as writing that Prince Bagration was an Armenian (he was Georgian). The earlier chapters are valuable for the author's explanations about the French Army organization and tactics.

Chandler, David, Atlas of Military Strategy, New York, The Free Press, 1980. The 1812 campaign is covered in 4 pages half filled with good maps. The description is obviously extremely brief, but by reading of this campaign in its context within the history of military campaigns the reader may gain an appreciation of its broader aspects.

Chandler, David, Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, New York, MacMillan, 1979. Considerable information on the Russians and 1812 campaign in these alphabetical entries. Even though it is a dictionary it would be nice if it had an index to enable the reader to find cross references.

Clausewitz, Carl von, The Campaign of 1812 in Russia, London, 1843, reprint edition by Academic International Press, 1970. This book was edited and published by the author's sister after his death. The organization is a bit disjointed and possibly not exactly as he would have wanted. But the content is exceptionally important. Not only is there a clear narrative of the events provided by an astute professional observer, but also much of the analysis of warfare that has made students read his On War over and over. The concepts of 'friction' 'fog of war' and 'culmination' are all here, as are his views on leadership. He divides the campaign into its logical phases, an organization that I have followed in the description below. The anonymous translator provides an excellent introduction in which he brings attention to several of the issues the Clausewitz raises that are at variance with generally accepted views. The most important of these is Napoleon's true objectives during the first week of his retirement from Moscow, when he began by marching southwest toward Kaluga, thus launching an attack against Kutuzov at Malo- Yaroslavets.

Duffy, Christopher, Borodino: Napoleon Against Russia 1812, New York, Charles Scribners, 1973. This 208 page book is the best available purely military study of the campaign. Duffy uses more Russian sources than do most accounts in English. There is a lengthy account and analysis of the battle at Borodino. The maps are well done and the statistical data provided are interesting.

Elting, Colonel John R. and BG Vincent Esposito, A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars, New York, Praeger, 1964. These are absolutely the best maps of all the important campaigns and battles of the Napoleonic Wars. Each is accompanied with clear descriptive text on the facing page. The coverage of the campaign in Russia is extremely detailed and excellent. This is the atlas one needs to have in hand when reading any of the other accounts.

Falls, Cyril, ed. Great Military Battles, New York, Spring Books, 1964. Among the articles on individual battles is one by Peter Young on Borodino. Brief, but nicely illustrated, it provides a popular summary of the battle.

Haythornthwaite, Philip, The Napoleonic Source Book, New York, Facts on File, 1990. This is an encyclopedia-type approach to the presentation of information on the topic. There are brief but excellent entries on practically every aspect of warfare. There are entries on each campaign and every participating nation. That for the 1812 campaign is only a couple pages long. And out of 42 biographies of important leaders there is only one on a Russian, Kutuzov. But there is a well written article on the Russian army.

Haythornthwaite, Philip, The Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars: Infantry and Cavalry, two volumes, London, Osprey, 1987. These are in the standard Osprey Men at Arms series format which provides details mostly on uniforms.

Holmes. E. R. Borodino, 1812, New York, Hippocrene Books, 1975. This 68 page long précis is an excellent, concise summary of the battle and campaign containing all the information essential for the student war-gamer, as its inclusion in the Knight's battles for Wargamers series would indicate.

Korkh, A. C. Mikhail Kutuzov, Moscow, State Order of Lenin History Museum, Vneshtorgizdat, 1988. Essentially a book of illustrations, with little text. It provides a useful visual source by use of paintings and etchings related to the campaign.

Lachouque, Henry and Anne S. K. Brown, The Anatomy of Glory, Napoleon and his Guard, London, Arms and Armour Press, 1978. Napoleon carefully kept his Imperial Guard out of combat right up until it formed his ultimate survival weapon during the disastrous days of the retreat. But then it amply deserved its reputation by repeatedly pulling off local tactical victories against overwhelming Russian forces that were as much put off by its undiminished reputation as its dwindling firepower. The book is the definitive reference for the overall topic, and provides ample background about the Imperial Guard for the reader to appreciate its psychological role in 1812. The account of this campaign of course is necessarily limited to its narrow subject, but nevertheless of value for the student.

Lochet, Jean, ed. NAPOLEON, A quarterly magazine published by Emperor's Press, 5744 West Irving Park Road, Chicago Il 60634. Issue number 6 has an article on the crossing of the Berezina River.

Nafziger, George, Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, Novato, Presidio Press, 1988. The author is an expert specialist in military order of battle, having created the most extensive database of such information on European armies from the 17th century on. The main strength of this book is its massive compilation of the organizational structure, orders of battle, strength and casualty statistics, and other date for both sides. Also it provides the most extensive treatment of the "minor" theaters on the north and south flanks of the main offensive to Moscow. None of the minor engagements or skirmishes have been omitted and for each of these and all the battles details down to the regimental level are provided. Maps for all the battles have been provided, but in some cases the date on the map appears to be "old style" while the text is narrated in "new style". The narration itself is occasionally difficult to follow due to dates being omitted from events.

Peredelski, V. ed. Tseikhgaus, Moscow, yearly. Excellent Russian military history journal focused mostly on uniforms. There are regularly articles on the Napoleonic era.

Pivka, Otto von, Armies of 1812, Vol I. The French Army, Cambridge Patrick Stephens, 1977. A concise yet detailed study of the technical aspects of the French and all its allied armies. It is especially valuable for descriptions of these latter formations. There is much statistical data. Of especial interest are the graphs depicting the deteriorating strength of each corps of the Grand Army over time during the campaign. The exact campaign trail for each corps is also shown on individual maps. It is well illustrated in color.

Rothenberg, Gunther E. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1980. This is the best concise study of the technical aspects of warfare of the period. It is extremely useful as a supplement to provide all the information missing from the accounts of the 1812 campaign.

Snibbe, Robert, ed. Members Bulletin, The Napoleonic Society, 1115 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Clearwater, Florida, 34616. A quarterly publication containing a mixed lot of articles on a wide variety of topics related to Napoleon.

Vilinbakhov, George, Otechestvennaya voina 1812 goda v kartinokh Petera Khersa, Leningrad, Iskustvo, 1984. George Vilinbakhov is Deputy Director of the State Museum of the Hermitage and a specialist on military history. This book discusses the illustrations of the 1812 campaign by the artist, Peter Khers.

Viskovatov, A. V. Historical Description of the Uniforms and Armaments of the Russian Army, St Petersburg, 1844-56. There is a 19 volume version of this massive work in the library of the Army Research Institute at Carlisle Barracks. I have photographed all the original lithograph plates and am in the process of digitizing them for publication on CD-ROM and on my World Wide Web site on the Internet. Individual sections are being translated and published by Mark Conrad.

Wartenburg, York von, Napoleon as a General, The Wolseley Series, reprint, ND. In this two volume work the author provides equal parts of narrative and critique always focused on Napoleon himself, his thought processes, and leadership characteristics. His commentary on the 1812 campaign is particularly biting. It closes with the following assessment. "It must be acknowledged indeed, that the general here only reaped the reward for that utter contempt for the future, which he always exhibited both in the government of his people and the training of his troops."

Zhilin, P. A. Borodino 1812, Moscow, Isdatel'stvo, 1987. This is a magnificent commemorative book for the 175th anniversary of the battle. It is prepared by and focused on the great Panorama Museum in Moscow. The book is primarily a work of art as each page contains full color illustrations of art related to the campaign. But the accompanying text is a valuable source of information as well. The book is organized chronologically from invasion to withdrawal and includes illustrations depicting both sides. Then there are sections on the influence of the campaign as seen in art depicting it over the century and half since.

Zweguintzow, W. L'Armee Russe, Paris, 1973. This work was written in French and Russian and privately printed in multivolume folio format. The volume on the Army of Alexander I contains not only all the information from Viskovatov but also sections on organization and tactics.



Some comments on the dispositions and command structure.


The dispositions as of June are shown on the map. The main French and Allied force is in the north. Eugene's and Jerome's corps are deployed far to the south west a considerable distance from the Russian border. From the dispositions of the Grand Army is seems possible that Napoleon hoped to entice the Russians into taking the offensive in which he could spring a trap. But one result was that Jerome was much too far from Grodno to accomplish his mission of catching Bagration. Eugene also was not as close to the border as he should have been.
Also, Jerome should not have been given command of three corps. This was an example of Napoleon's reluctance to let his marshals have any independence or power. He knew Davout was his best corps commander, and gave him six divisions to form the largest of the corps. But every time there was a question of Davout suggesting the right course of action Napoleon had nothing good to say about it. Then Junot was not the best replacement for Jerome, when the latter quit and went home. The VIII Corps had been commanded by Vandamme, who was much superior to Junot, but Vandamme had already retired to France due to conflict with Jerome.
Or Davout should have been located where Eugene was. From there he could have caught Bagration by himself. As it was, when Davout was sent to intercept Bagration at Minsk he only had two of his five remaining divisions and could not accomplish the mission without participation by Jerome's formations.
The French army had gained operational mobility in its campaigns in Western Europe by living off the country. This was feasible in such rich lands, especially when operating in enemy territory. Napoleon knew this would not be possible in Russia, so he stockpiled huge quantities of food and materials in depots. And he organized unprecedented numbers of supply transport units. But it is not possible to stock enough fodder for horses and impossible to transport it in sufficient quantities because the horses and even oxen are bound to eat all that they can pull in wagons before traveling long distances. Thus horses must live off the land. That is one reason armies from ancient times on planned major campaigns around the growing cycle and dates of harvest periods. Napoleon had the troops issued with rations for two weeks but in order to insure that this mobile supply would be intact for the first days of the campaign he ordered that it not be touched until the Nieman was crossed. The immediate result was that the units had to scrounge "maraud" for their food while crossing theoretically allied Poland. This not only caused great resentment among the population and reduced their enthusiasm for the war, but also got the troops into bad habits of desertion and wandering off with the excuse they were searching for food. It also created serious struggles and conflicts between units, especially those of different nationalities.
The Grand Army itself was only about half French. Many of the recruits were too young and physically weak.
The French command system was elaborate and well manned with staff officers. But it was highly centralized. All commanders and staff depended on and deferred to Napoleon. He was capable of handling vast quantities of detail. There are many examples of his photographic memory for faces and names years after his initial meetings and also for details of administrative statistical data. He could dictate four letters simultaneously to four different clerks.
The elaborate nature of the staffs did enable individuals to point to others when something was not accomplished. There were quite a few personal rivalries, hatreds, and feuds between senior officers, for instance, between Davout and Murat, and Davout and Berthier. Napoleon exacerbated such personal conflicts as part of his management style to increase competition.
Despite the organization of very elaborate and relatively efficient courier and postal services, when distances between headquarters grew as great as they were in Russia, communication became a major problem. Napoleon kept his plans secret even from most of his senior officers. There was no such thing as what we call now "commander's intent" to guide subordinates.


The Russian high command was divided and in much worse condition than the French. Although Barclay de Tolly had been named Minister of War and had carried out a major reform of the armed forces that was well received during the previous four or five years, he was intensely disliked by many officers and men as a "foreigner" as soon as the campaign began. He was actually a Livonian whose Scottish ancestors had long before entered Russian service, but his name still was against him. Moreover, he was personally disliked by many senior officers, especially Bagration. Then there were other officers who were simply self- centered power seekers, such as Benningsen, or incompetent thinkers such as Grand Duke Constantine. Initially Tsar Alexander assumed direct command of the Russian armed forces and appointed Barclay de Tolly to command only the First Western Army at Vilna. Bagration had an independent command of the Second West Army and Tormasov also was independent with his Third or Reserve Army south of the Pripet Marshes in Volynia. In addition there were Russian troops in Moldavia winding up the Turkish campaign and in Finland observing potential Swedish activities.
When the campaign began Tsar Alexander was at Vilna with his own large headquarters staff breathing down Barclay's throat. The situation threatened to become another Austerlitz. Fortunately Alexander was persuaded by his sister among others that his real duty lay in rousing the people and generating the national resources needed. Thus he left Vilna in July and went to Moscow to start this process, afterwards proceeding to St. Petersburg.
Despite Barclay's initial reforms the Russian army staff system was much weaker than the French. On the other hand, senior commanders, when placed in geographically remote locations, had no difficulty assuming responsibility for their independent conduct of operations or in understanding what the overall strategic picture required of them. On the battlefield as well, the initiative displayed by Russian tactical commanders was at least as great and any shown by their French opponents. The typical Russian unit organization and combat tactical formations are shown here. (Org1, Org 2, Org 3)


The 1812 campaign is interesting for one sidelight. The two major military theoreticians of the era were participants; Clausewitz with the Russian Army and Jomini with the French. But neither was in a major command role. Jomini had already published his sensational theoretical work of analysis of Napoleonic warfare and was well known and read by both sides. He wanted to be Napoleon's chief of staff or at least a senior advisor. But Napoleon had no need of a Jomini about the headquarters and Berthier certainly didn't want him around. He was appointed military governor of Vilna, in which post he soon was in conflict with the appointed military governor of Lithuania. Clausewitz was only a colonel, a junior officer among the Germans serving the Tsar. Worse, he could not speak Russian, so was relegated to inconsequential duties as a staff officer to Uvarov and then to Wittgenstein's staff. On the other hand his position gave him an excellent opportunity to observe at first hand much more than Jomini was able to see. His book on the campaign contains many of the most important of his theories later made famous in ON WAR. The ideas about "friction", "fog of war", "culmination", and leadership are all there. We will follow his analysis of the campaign.


Clauzwitz gives a masterful summary and analysis of the campaign interspersed with his personal observations of events during it. He divides the campaign into its two natural divisions, the period up to the French retreat and the retreat itself.
He points out that the war was conducted in five separate theaters. Two were to the left of the main road from Vilna to Moscow, two to the right of the road, and the main theater in the center. Although there were some shifts in the troops operating on these strategic directions during the campaign, the theaters themselves remained.


1. On the lower Dvina, Macdonald had 30,000 men to besiege and observe the garrison of Riga of 10,000 Russians. He also was to clear the Nieman River basin to enable French logistic traffic to bring supplies from Danzig to Kovno. His secondary mission was to threaten St. Petersburg and the right flank of the central Russian theater. The Russian garrison commander at Riga was Essen. The Russians added 12,000 of General Steingell from Finland in September, but these marched on to join Wittgenstein. From the Russian strategic point of view Macdonald was not much of a threat, and he proved them right.

2. On the middle Dvina around Polotsk, Oudinot had 40,000 men at first and then he and St Cyr together had 65,000 (to start on paper) opposed by Wittgenstein with 30,000 later increased to 50,000. The actions of these opponents eventually centered around Polotsk.

3. In the main central theater Napoleon had 300,000 against Barclay and Bagration with 120,000.

4. To the right flank, after Jerome's three corps joined the main army, General Dombrowski had about 10,000 Polish troops around Bobrusk fortress and occupying Minsk against General Hertel with 12,000 at Mozyr. They had an important mission to cover the Allied right flank along its extended LOC and protect the key supply depots being built at Minsk, Orsha and other towns from incursions by Russian irregular troops.

5. In southern Lithuania in the Pripet marshes Schwarzenberg and Reynier had 51,000 (at the start) against Tormassov with 35,000, who was joined later by Chichagov from Moldavia with 35,000. These allied generals eventually failed in their mission and allowed Chichagov to slip past them and block Napoleon's retreat at Borisov.


The Allied army on 24 June initially advanced as follows:
1. Macdonald with X Corps of two Prussian and one of Davout's French divisions (30,000) crossed the Niemen at Tilsit headed toward Riga, via Mitau and Jacobstadt.
2. Napoleon had:

Davout I Corps


Oudinot II Corps


Ney III Corps


Eugene IV Corps


St Cyr V Corps


Mortier Guard


Murat 3 Cavalry Corps




Of these, 230,000 crossed the Niemen at Kovno and 67,000 crossed at Pilona several days later.

3. In southern Poland Jerome had
Poniatowski, V Corps, 36,000
Reynier, VII Corps, 17,000
Vandamme, VIII Corps, 17,000
Latour-Mauborg, Cavalry corps, 8,000
Total, 78,000

These crossed at Grodno on 1 July to attack Bagration.

4. On extreme right flank Schwarzenberg crossed Bug at Drohyczyn with 34,000.

The Russian army on the frontier was divided into three bodies. First West Army under Barclay had 90,000 with its right wing (Wittgenstein) as far as the Baltic and its left (Doctorov) around Grodno and its headquarters at Vilna. Second West Army under Bagration had 45,000 from Grodno to Muchavetz with headquarters at Volkovski. He also had Platov with 10,000 Cossacks covering the border. At these locations he had already shifted much further north from where he had been when Napoleon had conceived his initial strategic plan. The Reserve Army under Tormassov was in southern Volhynia with 35,000 and headquarters at Lutzk. Napoleon consistently refused to believe this force amounted to anything of strategic significance. There was a second strategic echelon of regimental third battalions along the Dvina and Dnieper with 35,000 men. In addition there were Russian armies in Finland, on the lower Danube and in the Caucasus.

During July the five Allied armies shifted as they advanced and were redistributed. The actions on the four flanking theaters did not amount to much until October, when Napoleon was starting to retreat. Then Schwarzenberg was pushed away from the center, while Oudinot and St Cyr were pushed toward the center.
Napoleon's plan was to cross at Kovno and drive Barclay back. The Russians were to be cut off from Barclay by a force of 67,000 sent from the center under Eugene, who was to cross on 30 June and cover the gap between Napoleon and Jerome. It was assumed that Bagration would be by then advancing against Warsaw or at least not retreating. Eugene's mission was to protect the right flank of the main French army and provide a connecting link with Jerome's three corps. Napoleon also hoped to catch Doctorov while he was still along the frontier. Jerome was first to serve as "bait" for Bagration and then to advance rapidly to hold him in place so that others could easily surround him.

The Russian commanders didn't conform to Napoleon's preconceptions. Their initial plan was governed by the concept Alexander had been sold of one army occupying an elaborately prepared fortress at Drissa while the other operated on Napoleon's flank. But this plan was almost immediately discarded as impractical, leaving both Barclay and Bagration to their own devices and take advantage of whatever opportunities Napoleon might leave them.


The offensive period has two periods. The first includes the movements in which the French attempts to separate the two Russian forces, while the Russians are marching to join themselves together. That is, the period from 24 June until the French reach Vitbesk and Orsha at the beginning of August and the Russians reach Smolensk. This period has two phases. In the first the French moved to Vilna and halted, in the second they moved to Vitebsk and again halted.
The second period is from the Battle of Smolensk until they decide to retire from Moscow. It has two phases, the march from Smolensk through Borodino to Moscow, and the long stay in the city.

The First Period:

French advance from 24 June to their halt in Vilna in the middle of July:
Napoleon crossed the Niemen River at Kovno on three pontoon bridges and assault craft and reached Vilna on 29 June. After crossing he sent Oudinot north against Wittgenstein at Keidany to push him apart from Barclay. He sent Ney after Oudinot for support and to cover the Vilia river. Wittgenstein met Oudinot's advance guard at Vilkomir, but reached the main Russian army abreast of Svanziany with the two French corps following him.
Already at Kovno Napoleon was concerned about the lack of intelligence on Russian locations and intentions. He became cautious, not knowing what Bagration might be doing on his exposed right flank. This feeling of unease increased at Vilna. Also, between the Nieman and Vilna straggling and "marauding" increased dramatically. Many horses were lost due to being fed green grain and exposed at night to sudden chills. The summer was unusually hot, especially by western standards. Many troops complained that marching conditions were worse than in Spain or even Egypt. Dust obscured even vision to the front of the column. Water was scarce. The peasant huts were astonishingly dirty and miserable. Hunger and bad water caused dysentery and enteric fever immediately. But it was a disease entirely new to the French that exposed its wrath within days of the river crossing. This appeared as blotchy pink rashes and turned men's faces to a dusky blue. Frequently death was quick. The unknown cause was the lice that infested most buildings and quickly took up residence in unwashed clothing. The French and their allies had never witnessed typhus. By the third week of July 80,000 soldiers were dead or sick.
At Vilna Napoleon sent 50,000 men under Davout (minus three of his best divisions) to Minsk to accomplish the separation of Bagration from the main army of Barclay. Thus Davout in effect crossed the path of Eugene who was headed northeast. If he had crossed the Nieman much further south he could have accomplished this mission more easily. But he drove his troops with forced marches. Enroute Davout's advance guard hit a Russian unit that he and Napoleon presumed was Bagration's advance guard, but it was actually Docturov's rear guard. Thereby the Russian corps escaped being cut off from Barclay.
Napoleon directed the remaining 110,000 under Murat against Barclay toward Svanziany.
Barclay started his withdrawal from Vilna on 26 June via Svanziany to the northeast toward Drissa according to plan, but on 2 July he was still at Svanziany, where both Wittgenstein and Docturov joined him. Barclay then reached Drissa on the 10th of July.
Eugene crossed the Nieman on 30 June as ordered, headed to Anuszyski. But Napoleon redirected his VI Corps northeast to Vilna. Eugene continued to Devinicki on 10 July. By then Davout was already in Minsk and Bagration had already slipped south to Bobrusk. Therefore Eugene changed his line of march more to the east via Smorgoni to Vitebsk where he reunited with the main army.
On 1 July Jerome advanced from Grodno as ordered (behind schedule according to Napoleon's new plans) toward Novogrodeck. Bagration left Volkovisk on 29 June marching via Slonim and Novogrodeck to Nikolayev where on 4 July he tried to cross the Niemen. Finding Davout at Voloschin he turned to Mir trying to reach Minsk. At Schverschin he again found Davout. He shifted and remained 3 days from the 10th at Nzhevich collecting his artillery and supply trains. Situation on 14 July.
Tormasov was assembling his army around Lutzk.

Situation on 10 July:

Grand Army:

Macdonald with 30,000 between Rossiena and Schvilzha
Oudinot with 40,000 (-) at Solock
Ney with 39,000 (-) at Rimsziani
Murat with 51,000 (-) at Vidzy
Napoleon with guards and St Cyr 72,000 (-) at Vilna
Davout with 50,000 (-) at Minsk
Eugene with 40,000 (-) at Dipnischki
Jerome with 61,000 (-) at Novogrodeck
Reynier with 17,000 (-) between Volkovisk and Novogrodeck
Schwarzenberg with 34,000 at Pruschany

Russian Armies:

Essen with 10,000 garrison at Riga
Barclay with 100,000 in fortress camp at Drissa
Bagration with 45,000 at Nzhesvich
Tormasov with 35,000 at Lutzk
Chichagov with the Army of the Danube in Besarabia

The French had to halt for supplies and rest. Already sickness, especially typhus and dysentery, and lack of food was having a terrible effect. Tens of thousands of troops were straggling or marauding and thousands of horses had died. Also heavy rain caused roads to turn to mud. Supply and artillery trains were far to the rear. Napoleon stayed 14 days at Vilna, Davout spent 4 days at Minsk. Murat, Ney and Oudinot spent 15 days covering 30 miles and then 8 days at Drissa. Napoleon was already loosing control of his own army and his opportunities to control the strategic situation to force his will on his opponents. Campaign situation.

Second Period:

From the end of the first halt to the second, that is the middle of July to August 8th, 3 weeks.
At the middle of July Napoleon started again toward Glubockoy. He then considered surrounding the Russian camp at Drissa. Meanwhile Barclay gave up the idea of defending the camp and started toward Vitebsk, leaving Drissa on the 16th and reaching Vitebsk on the 23rd. He left Wittgenstein with 25,000 at Polotsk to cover routes to Petersburg.
Napoleon sent Oudinot toward Wittgenstein and then followed Barclay, arriving before Vitebsk on the 26th. Bagration left Nzhesvisch on the 13th, marching via Sluzk, Glusk and Bobruisk over the Beresina and then to Stari-Bychov on the Dnieper on the 21st. He moved up the Beresina, hoping to cross at Mogilev. Davout had to detach 6,000 cavalry to the main army at Orsha. He then marched to Mogilev, arriving on the 20th of July. Thus Davout with 20,000 remaining was to wait at Saltanovka for Bagration with 45,000.

Battle of Saltanovka:

Davout had to prepare a defensive position because he lacked his three corps that were with Murat. If he had been in full strength it is likely that he would have driven Bagration back south if not destroyed his army. Bagration attacked without success on the 23rd. Thinking he was facing Davout's entire I Corps of at least 60,000, Bagration then feinted with cavalry and Rayevsky's corps, while crossing the Dnieper by a pontoon bridge at Stari-Bychov on the 24th. Situation on 24 July.
Jerome, meanwhile, from 10 July had advanced to Novogrodeck and then Mir. At Mir Ataman Platov's Cossacks and Tatars ambushed the Polish cavalry inflicting severe losses. Jerome turned extra cautious. This allowed Bagration his 3 day wait at Nzhesvisch, where Jerome arrived on the 16th. Napoleon censured Jerome for delay and wrecking the strategic plan. It was actually Napoleon's fault, first for not placing Jerome in position in Poland from which he could have arrived sooner and then for not giving Davout sufficient forces to accomplish the mission. Jerome took offense and went home to Westphalia. His forces were divided. The VIII Corps was given to Tharreau, Vandamme having already returned to France, and then to Junot. It marched via Minsk to Orsha to join the main army eventually at Smolensk. Poniatowski with V Corps followed Bagration as far as Romanova and then retired to Mogilev on 29 July. Latour-Mauborg (IV Cavalry Corps) followed Bagration as far as Glusk on the 24th but then could not cross at the Russian-held fortress of Bobrusk, so crossed the Berezina at Beresino and reached Mogilev on 5 August.
Meanwhile, Reynier with VII Corps was sent to join Schwarzenberg against Tormasov. Napoleon wanted to bring Schwarzenberg to the Grand Army and replace him with Reynier's Saxons, whom he thought sufficient to control Tormasov. Reynier moved back to Slonim and then to Muchavits. Schwarzenberg was at Muchavits and Pruschany. Theater map

Battle of Kobrin:

On 17 July Tormasov started forward under orders to hit French rear areas. On 25 July Reynier was at Chomsk and his brigade commanded by Klengel at Kobrin. Tormasov was able to surround Klengel in Kobrin and force his surrender with 6,000 troops before Reynier could assist. Reynier was forced back to Slonim, where Schwarzenberg supported him. Schwarzenberg knew better than Napoleon the true situation and refused to obey the order to march east.
Macdonald moved the Prussian troops toward Riga. On 19 July they attacked the Russians and drove them back.
On 24 July the Allied Order of Battle was as follows:
Macdonald with 20,000 at Riga against Essen and 10,000 at Jacobstadt
Oudinot with 40,000 (-) against Wittgenstein with 30,000 at Polotsk.
Napoleon with 180,000 against Barclay with 75,000 at Vitebsk
St. Cyr with 25,000 in reserve at Uszacz.
Davout with 50,000 (-) against Bagration near Mogilev
Bagration with 45,000 between Beresino and Mogilev
VIII Corps, 17,000 near Borisov
Schwarzenberg with 34,000 near Slonim
Reynier with 17,000 near Chomsk against Tormasov with 35,000 at Kobrin.

Clauswitz bases his count on original strength figures, but points out there were already heavy losses in the Grand Army. By 26 July the French had lost at least 25% of their starting strength, mostly due to sickness and straggling. The Russians had lost much less. The French also had to form detachments to garrison key points and depots. Some statistics are shown below.

Battle of Ostrovno:

Barclay sent a strong rear guard from Vitebsk against the French main army. This engaged Murat in heavy fighting along the road between Ostrovno and Vitebsk on 25, 26, and 27 August. On the 27th Napoleon thought he had brought Barclay to battle. But Barclay, hearing that Bagration was moving to Smolensk, himself departed Vitebsk on the night of 27th. Barclay reached Smolensk on 2 Aug and Bagration arrived on the 4th. There was a reinforcement of 8,000 troops waiting for them.
Napoleon remained at Vitebsk until 8 August and reorganized. He again found that his forward units were lacking in artillery and ammunition and all were running out of food. The delay resulted in Davout on 21st, Eugene on 24th, and Junot (VIII Corps) on 4 Aug joining the main army along the Dnieper. Poniatowski remained at Mogilev until 8 Aug and then joined at Smolensk. He left Dombrowski with one division to cover Minsk and guard against the Russian fortress at Bobruisk.
At this time Wittgenstein retired toward St Petersburg, then turned and attack Oudinot at Jackubovo before Macdonald might join him. The battle lasted two days and went back and forth, but in the end the Russians held the advantage. Wittgenstein followed Oudinot and St Cyr toward Polotsk, but could not attack this strong position.
The campaign had now lasted 6 weeks. According to French strength figures, the original main army of 375,000 in the central theater had been reduced by 90,000 in detachments to Oudinot, St. Cyr, Latour-Mauborg and Reynier. This gives a theoretical strength of 285,000 remaining. But the muster showed only 185,000 on 3 August. The 100,000 missing were mostly clear loss, due to sickness more than battle casualties. According to commentary by individuals in the Grand Army even this count may be high, because there was already falsification of strength returns by intermediate commanders reluctant to reveal their true losses. Murat apparently concealed the true losses in cavalry mounts. And at one point Ney had both French and Russian dead stripped before Napoleon arrived on the scene so he could claim a much higher ratio of enemy dead to his own loss. In one of those especially fascinating accounts given in Austin's book there is a discussion of the intelligence value of examining latrines. (This is one of those interesting duties the US Army Mission in Potsdam used to have while crawling around in Soviet unit rear areas). The French command noted that whereas their own forces were obviously suffering seriously from dysentery and diarrhea, the Russians clearly were healthy and well fed.
Meanwhile, Schwarzenberg and Reynier had only 42,000 out of 51,000. Oudinot and St. Cyr had only 35,000 out of 65,000. Macdonald had not suffered very much loss.

Loss statistics:

Otto von Pivka provides some very interesting and enlightening graphs showing the declining strength of each individual corps. From these we can read that the Imperial Guard did not fall to 50% strength until after 1 October, reflecting the fact that it even then had not been in combat. But by 3 Aug it was at 24,600, compared to an initial strength of over 35,000. I Corps reached 50% strength on 17 Aug, during the battle of Smolensk. II Corps hit 50% strength on 3 August during its battle at Jakubovo. III Corps reached 50% on 19 August at the battle of Lubino (east of Smolensk). IV Corps also declined to 50% on the 17th at Smolensk. V Corps passed the 50% mark on August 13th. VI Corps was already down to 50% on 7 July. VII Corps (Reynier) which never entered very far into Russia never fell below 60%. VIII Corps declined to 50% by 28 July, was reinforced, and then fell again below 50% at Borodino. IX Corps (Victor) entered the theater only in September and didn't fall below 50% until November. XI Corps did not enter Russia until 18 November and went no further than Osmiana, but nevertheless fell below 50% before the month was out. The combined I, II, III, and IV Cavalry Corps strength, initially at 40,000, declined by 50% by 3 August. Situation 14 August.

Third Period:

From the Russian attempted offensive before Smolensk to the loss of Moscow - from 8 August to 15 September or 5 weeks.
The French main army was now distributed into camps with Murat and Ney at Rudina, 3 divisions of I Corps at Babinovicki, Imperial Guard at Vitebsk, Eugene at Surasch and Velisch, Davout and Junot on the left bank of the Dnieper. (In other words quite spread out.) This gave Barclay some idea he could launch a successful attack against one or two of these separated corps. Barclay therefor decided to attack toward Rudina with both armies less the division of Neverovski, which Bagration had very wisely stationed south of the Dnieper at Krasnoi to cover the road to Smolensk. This counter-offensive was to be accomplished in 3 columns on 8 August. Immediately Platov's cossack advance guard hit the French van under Sebastiani at Inkovo and drove it back with high losses to the Allies. Receiving false information, Barclay suddenly became worried that the French were on the road from Poreciz north of him and not where he was attacking. He called off the attack and retired. But this aborted attack roused Napoleon, while causing much disturbance to him and his army. He decided to renew his offensive, but by a different road. On the 14th all the corps not already south of the Dnieper crossed at Rasasna to advance against Smolensk from the south. Barclay realized he had been mistaken and started to advance again. But this time, being warned by Bagration, he discovered that the French were indeed not north of the river. He therefore on the 16th headed rapidly back toward Smolensk, where Bagration was already located.
On the 15th Neverovski's division, that had wisely been left behind and south of the Dnieper at Krasnoi was struck by the full weight of Murat's cavalry plus Ney's infantry. Neverovski's small force of 8,000 was driven back with high losses, but not without disputing every inch of ground in a heroic defensive battle. This saved Smolensk. One cause of his success was the way Murat refused to allow Ney to bring artillery into play, but insisted on repeated, ineffectual frontal cavalry attacks. Rayevski soon reenforced Neverovski.

Battle of Smolensk:

On the 16th the French advance guard attacked Smolensk. By then Bagration had put Rayevski's corps into the town. The Russians held the French out, using the massive medieval walls, which were impervious to the French field artillery. During the night 16-17 August Rayevski was replaced by Docturov from Barclay's army and Bagration withdrew to the east, toward Moscow. The French continued their frontal assault on Smolensk all day on the 17th, finally breaking into the suburbs as far as the massive walls that evening. During the night of the 17th the Russians left Smolensk south of the river but remained in contact on the north bank. Finding the city empty early on the 18th, Ney entered the city, followed by Napoleon. The French attempted to cross the river but spent most of the day reorganizing, while sending reconnaissance eastward to find crossings of the Dnieper. On the 18th during the night Barclay began to retreat on a northern road away from the river. Some of his formations became disoriented and lost. Bagration was on the direct or southern route toward Moscow.

Battle of Valutino Gora:

In a very fierce battle the Russian rear guard successfully held Valutino Gora against Murat and Ney on the north bank and Junot, who was crossing the Dnieper east of Smolensk to cut them off. Ney ordered Junot to attack in support but the latter refused. Map.
These battles cost each side about 20,000 casualties. But the loss was much worse for the French, since the Russians were expecting reinforcements. Napoleon again had to stop to bring up supplies and attend to wounded and missing. Napoleon now had serious discussions with his senior officers about what to do. Most recommended that he stop and consolidate around Smolensk and hold the Dvina and Dnieper river lines over the winter. He seemed to agree, but the lure of Moscow proved too enticing.
From Smolensk to Borodino the Russian rear guard daily held against the French advance. Situation on Aug 25th. Generally these skirmishes involved 10,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantry on each side. Murat continued his reckless use of cavalry, bringing him into conflict not only with Ney but now Davout as well. But their criticism was to no avail. On 27 August Miloradovich brought in 15,000 fresh troops to the Russian army. Kutuzov arrived and took command on the 29th.

Battle of Borodino:

( see Borod2 for photos of the battlefield and of sections of the great Panorama.) (See time line for the hour by hour action during the battle.) On 3 September Napoleon ordered a full muster with strength counts. The official count was 128,000 total plus 6,000 expected to return to duty within 6 days. On 4 September the Russians received an additional 10,000 of the opolchenia at Borodino, where Kutuzov had agreed to halt and give battle. After several other possibly better locations were rejected he had to accept this location recommended by Benningsen and selected initially by Toll. Initial positions.
The terrain in this area was as favorable for the defense as one could hope for in central Russia. Clausewitz writes that there are no really good defensive positions to be had so a general has to make do with what he can find. The Russian line was located on low rolling hills with open areas between pine and birch forests. The center was between the two main roads from Smolensk to Moscow. The position was behind the Kolotcha River, but this stream did not afford much protection because it flowed at an angle to the front and wasn't very deep anyway. The right flank was behind a favorable stretch of the Kolotcha River from its confluence with the larger Moskva River upstream a mile. But the center and left were far back from the Kolotcha. Several much smaller dry stream beds afforded some defensive capability, especially the Semenovka, which intersected the position before joining the Kolotcha. There were several low ridges and in the right center of the line a larger hill gave a view across the streams. The so-called Rayevsky Redoubt mounting 18 12pounder cannon was placed on this hill.
The Grand Army by this time had 90,000 infantry and 29,500 cavalry with 587 guns. But some units were very under-strength and the entire cavalry was weak due to poor quality horses. Of the 83 cavalry regiments, 43 were French and 40 were of other nationalities. The Russian army contained 90,000 infantry and 24,000 cavalry plus 7,000 cossacks, and had 640 guns.
On 5 September the French took the advanced Shevardino redoubt from the march after a bitter fight as they approached the battlefield in the evening. On the 6th both sides prepared. On the 7th the battle of Borodino resulted in about 40,000 Russian and 30,000 French casualties. (For a detailed hour-by-hour description see the table.)
The initial Russia disposition was badly weighted too much on their relatively protected right side and too little on their exposed left side (map). On the right Barclay had the First West Army with Baggovout's II Corps on the far right and Ostermann- Tolstoy's IV Corps also to the right of the main road and behind the Kolotcha. Behind these corps were the 1st Cavalry Corps of Uvarov and Ataman Platov's main cossack force. The VI Corps commanded by Dokhturov held the center up to the Raevsky Redoubt. The redoubt itself was covered by Paskevich's division of Raevsky's VII Corps of the Second West Army. The II Cavalry Corps of Korff and III Cavalry Corps of Kreutz were behind the infantry on the right flank. The Life Guard Jager Regiment held the bridge and village of Borodino.
Bagration's Second West Army deployed on the left end of the line. From the Raevsky redoubt it had 2,500 yards of frontage behind Semenovka village, which was torn down, up to a hill on which three fletches were hastily constructed. Raevsky's VII Corps had to hold this line from the redoubt to Semenovka inclusive. The IV Cavalry Corps of Sievers was in support. Vorontsov's 7th Combined Grenadier Division held the fletches and Neverovsky's 27th Infantry Division was behind the line until moved up to Shevardino. This was a redoubt hastily constructed a mile in front of the main Russian position to serve as a kind of look out post and to prevent the French from deploying easily. Borozdin's VIII Corps held the left of Bagration's and the army line.
At the last minute Barclay and Bagration became aware of the great weakness of the left flank. They managed to have Tuchkov's III Corps sent there from the general reserve on the 6th, but by then it was too late to construct field fortifications. Phase 1 of battle.
Thus the army reserve was reduced to the V Corps consisting of the Life Guard Infantry Division and the 1st and 2nd Cuirassier Divisions.
Kutuzov established his headquarters in Gorki village, which is on the new Smolensk-Moscow road not far from Borodino village. But this is far to the right flank, actually almost beyond the right of the region in which all the fighting took place. In addition to the two army commanders, Barclay and Bagration, an intermediate echelon of command was created. General Miloradovich was placed in charge of II and IV Corps and I and II Cavalry Corps. General Dokhturov controlled his own VI Corps and the III Cavalry Corps. On the left Prince Gorchakov controlled the VII and VIII Corps and IV Cavalry Corps.
In the Allied army Eugene occupied the left flank with his Italian Corps north of the Kolotcha River. He had to build several pontoon bridges to bring his divisions into line to attack the Rayevski Redoubt. He had divisions led by Delzons, Broussier, Gerard and cavalry led by Ornano and Grouchy. Ney and Davout attacked in the center, supported initially by Junot, whose corps was later shifted south, between Davout and Poniatowski. They were supported by Murat's cavalry, the Reserve Corps of Nansouty, Montbrun, and Latour-Maubourg. In addition the Imperial Guard stood behind them. Poniatowski had his Polish Corps on the far right of the line with the mission to attack up the Old Smolensk Road and take Utitsa. He had 10,000 men and 50 guns, or 8% of the army and 11% of the artillery.
Napoleon deployed about 85,000 men in the center of his line with formations stacked up a mile deep. According to one estimate the French 133,000 men were deployed at 44,000 per mile. Cates has estimated the density of the Russian forces at 9.5 men per yard over the entire 11,000 yard wide position. Initially the Russians were deployed with four corps covering 7,000 yards and 2 corps covering 4,000 yards, plus one corps in reserve. This shows why they had to shift several corps during the battle. But considering that most of the fighting took place in a 6,500 yard wide central sector into which two corps from the right were shifted, the total Russian strength there comes to 16 men per yard. According to another estimate the Russian army had 125,000 men deployed at 36,000 infantry per mile, 24,000 line cavalry in reserve, and 14,000 artillerymen and engineers. But of these there were 15,000 opolchenie and 15,000 new recruits. The 7,000 cossacks were divided to the two flanks. Their 640 artillery pieces were of larger caliber and outranged the French. Unfortunately almost half (300) were in reserve and never made it into combat. Also, the Russian artillery had a habit of shooting high. Situation at 0900.
During the battle the French fired 60,000 artillery rounds and 140,000 infantry cartridges. The Russians fired 50-60,000 artillery rounds also and probably 120,000 infantry cartridges. This indicates an average rate of fire of 3 cannon shots per second and 430 musket shots per minute. Phase 2 of battle. Situation at 1600.
Casualty estimates vary. The French lost about 30,000. The Russians lost between 38,000 and 44,000, with the official records indicating a loss of 43,924. George Nafziger provides the most detailed data on Russian losses by regiment. Some Russian units came off with relatively light losses in the range of 2 - 5%, while others took heavy casualties. In the Imperial Guard, for instance, the Preobrazhenski Regiment, which had never seen direct action, nevertheless suffered 7% casualties while standing in its deep reserve position. The Semenovski Regiment, also mostly in reserve suffered 29% a loss. But the three regiments that had withstood repeated French cavalry attacks and withering fire from the French Guard Artillery took -Ismailovski 42%, Lithuanian 39% and Finland 24.4% losses. The Guard Jager Regiment, that had been surprised and driven out of Borodino at first light, suffered 27% losses. Phase 3 of battle.
The French stated they recovered 20,000 cannon balls from the battlefield after the engagement. Russian records indicate the peasants buried 58,521 men and 35,478 horses on the battlefield in early 1813. Phase 4 of battle.
On the 8th Kutuzov retired to Moscow. Napoleon marveled at the tiny number of Russian prisoners and small number of wounded they left behind. The next day Napoleon followed, leaving Junot's much reduced corps to hold Mozhaisk. On 10 September Miloradovich dealt Murat's advance guard a sharp blow at Krimskoi in which the French lost 2,000. But Russian weaponry was the least of the French worries. Between the battle of Borodino and their arrival in the Russian capital another 10,000 French troops fell by the wayside, stricken with typhus or dysentery. On 14 September the Russians marched through Moscow. They exited by the road to Riazan (on the east bank of the Moskva River) in order to keep the river between them and the French, but then shifted on the 16th to cross the river. On the 17th and 18th they marched to cross the Pachra River at Podolsk. They reached the Kaluga road on the 20th and remained there until the 26th. Meanwhile, immediately that the Russian army had cleared the city it was set on fire on orders of its governor, Count Rostopchin.

Battle of Polotsk:

During this period Wittgenstein had attempted to attack Grandjean's division of Macdonald's corps at Dunaburg, but received reports that Oudinot and St Cyr were moving against him. He therefor shifted to attack Oudinot. On 16 August he reached Polotsk and attacked Oudinot on the 17th with great success. Oudinot was preparing to retire, when he was wounded, passing command to St. Cyr. On the 18th St Cyr decided to attack instead, forcing Wittgenstein to retreat behind the Dvina River. The two sides remained observing each other into October.
At Riga the Russians on 23 August sallied against the Prussian right wing at Dahlenkirchen and drove them back. Then both sides rested into October.
Meanwhile Schwarzenberg and Reynier united and advanced against Tormasov. On 12 August Schwarzenberg turned Tormasov's left and forced him to retreat toward Kobrin and then back south around the Pripet Marsh. By 29 August Tormasov was defending behind the Styr River at Lutzk. There Tormasov was joined by Admiral Chichagov with 38,000 on 18 September. Chichagov had left Bucharest with the Army of Moldavia on 31 July.
In the rear of the French center Victor crossed the Niemen on 3 September at Kovno with IX Corps, 34,000 strong, and moved toward Smolensk.

Fourth Period:

From the French arrival at Moscow to their retreat, Sept 15 to October 23, or 5 weeks. Situation 4 October.
The French main army arrived at Moscow only 90,000 strong. Murat with an advance guard of 25,000 to 30,000 carefully followed Kutuzov a short distance. Junot had 2,000 men at Mozhaisk and D'Hilliers had a division of various troops collected at Smolensk. Victor was between the Dnieper and Dvina. During these weeks about 12,000 reinforcements reached Napoleon in Moscow. But these barely kept up with the losses due to sickness. The fall weather was exceptionally warm. In Moscow typhus continued to take its daily toll and another 10,000 troops were lost to sickness or succumbed to prior wounds. Meanwhile the hospitals established at the Kolotski monastery, and in Viazma and Smolensk were filled with the sick and wounded who were dying from lack of medicine and care.

French unit strength in Moscow in October


Initial Strength

Duty Strength

I Corps



III Corps






V Corps



VIII Corps


2,000 at Mozhaisk




Cavalry Reserve



Kutuzov shifted from Krasnoi Pachra to Tarutino and went into an entrenched position behind the Nara River on 2 October. Kutuzov had only 70,000 as he passed through Moscow, but by now had 110,000 in line.
Alexander meanwhile issued orders to Wittgenstein, Steinheil and Chichagov to unite and cut the French line of communications at the Beresina River. Steinheil brought the 12,000 of the army from Finland to Wittgenstein, raising his force to 40,000.
Kutuzov detached Vinzingerode and Doctorov to the left and right of Moscow to attack French garrisons. Militia swarmed over all roads and villages holding the French in check.
Napoleon sent Lauriston twice to Kutuzov to negotiate. Kutuzov pretended to be interested, prolonging the discussions and holding Napoleon longer in Moscow. Barclay realized his position was compromised by his enemies. He asked to be relieved due to ill health. He was then exiled to Vladimir due to the very unfair attacks against him by so many of the senior officers.

Battle of Valuntino:

On 18 October Benningsen attacked Murat's advance guard of 20,000 at Valuntino on the Czernicznia river and drove him back with French losses of 3-4,000 men and 36 guns.
During this period on 20 September General Steinheil having arrived in Courland by sea from Finland and marched overland to Riga, attacked the Prussians on the 26th. General Yorck fought for 3 days to defend the French siege artillery at Ruhenthal.

Second Battle of Polotsk:

Steinheil retired to Riga and then marched to join Wittgenstein by the left bank of the Dvina to attack Polotsk in rear. On 18-19 October Wittgenstein, under orders from Alexander, attacked in the Second Battle of Polotsk, storming the town and forcing the French to retreat. The remanet of the French VI Corps retired toward Vilna and the II Corps toward Czasvicki to meet Victor. Wittgenstein sent detachments after the VI Corps and himself followed the II Corps.
Chichagov now had 65,000 against Schwarzenberg and Reynier with 40,000. The Russians attacked again Schwarzenberg retired down the Bug to Brest-Litovsk, where the two armies met on 9 October. Tormasov was called to Kutuzov. Chichagov in command advanced again. Schwarzenberg recrossed the Bug and retired on the Warsaw road to Vengrov. Chichagov was ordered to shift to block the French at the Berezina River, so did not pursue the Austrians but went into camp to rest. General Hertel continued to hold the Austrians at Pinsk and the Poles (Dombrowski at Bobruisk) in check.

Part II: the French Retreat

From the start of Napoleon's retreat to the crossing of the Niemen - October 18 to December 11, or seven weeks.
Napoleon was on the point of retiring from Moscow when the news of Murat's loss at Valuntino came in. This forced him to act early. One of the major questions about his strategy during the campaign concerns his motives and strategic conceptions at this time. Some of his written orders to corps commanders described a plan to march southwest to Kaluga and then from there northwest to Smolensk via Yelnia. As part of this plan he ordered Victor to send troops south from Smolensk to Yelnia to help prepare this route. But Clausewitz is adamant in discounting this strategic plan. He claims that Napoleon began the retreat by first advancing toward Kutuzov at Malo Yaroslavets in order to reduce the advantage of position that Kutuzov had over him. At Taritino (map) Kutuzov was 3 days closer to Smolensk than Napoleon was in Moscow. Napoleon therefor decided to push Kutuzov back toward Kaluga, while shifting his army onto a direct road to Mozhaisk. Commentators who believe Napoleon had any intention of trying to march back through a so-called 'unravaged' southern route are quite mistaken. The French army depended on its depots for supply and had gone to great lengths to create such depots along the road via Smolensk. There was no way they could forage effectively for supplies in the countryside unravaged or not as they marched in winter with cossacks on all sides. So Napoleon's aim was to shift himself into a more favorable position to be able to reach Smolensk before Kutuzov.
Napoleon therefor marched at first on the old road toward Kaluga to Krasnoi Pachra, then turned onto the new road to Fominski and threatened Kutuzov's left flank and communications with Kaluga. Napoleon hoped to force Kutuzov into another withdrawal toward that town without a battle. At the same time he sent Poniatowski further to his right to clear the way and recover Veriya, which was accomplished on 23 October.
Kutuzov was surprised, but managed to shift Doctorov to Malo-Yaroslavets just in time to meet Eugene's Italians on 24 October. The French army managed to hold the town in a fierce, back-and-forth battle. This showed Napoleon that he could not push Kutuzov back without heavy losses. He had achieved part of his purpose, so assembled the army on 25 October to start for Smolensk via Mozhaisk. But why clear back to Mozhaisk. There were intermediate roads available that would have led to Smolensk more directly. Kutuzov withdrew on the Kaluga road anyway. Also on the 25th Platov launched a cossack sortie against the French position at Gorodnia that took 11 cannon and from which Napoleon himself barely escaped. Other cossacks appeared at Borovski, causing increased French concern about their line of communications.
Meanwhile, on the 23rd, Mortier left Moscow with the Young Guard directly for Mozhaisk. He was ordered to blow up the Kremlin, but fortunately many of the fuzes did not function so the damage was relatively minor. He joined Junot on the 28th west of that town to form the advance guard for the retreating army. Napoleon reached Mozhaisk on the 28th and Davout was at Borovski with the rear guard. On the 31st Napoleon with the advanced guard reached Viazma, the Imperial Guard and Murat were at Federovski, Poniatowski and Eugene were at Gzhatsk and the rear guard of Davout was at Gridnevo.
Kutuzov moved on the 27th from Gonczarovo on the parallel road through Medyn and Veriya and on toward Viazma. Miloradovich with 25,000 men advanced to Gzhatsk, where he attacked the last French corps. Platov followed with 6-8,000 cavalry. Situation map.
Napoleon halted two days at Viazma to bring the army together. On 2 November he reached Semlevo, with the Guard, Murat, and Junot. Ney was at Viazma; Eugene, Poniatowski and Davout at Federovskoye. Situation map.

Battle of Viazma:

On 3 November Miloradovich and Platov with 40,000 men attacked the French at Viazma. Kutuzov came close at Vikovo, but did not participate. The French retired as soon as Davout's rear guard was closed in, having suffered heavy casualties.
Between Viazma and Smolensk there were several rear-guard actions between Ney and Miloradovich, at Semlevo and Dorogobusch. Eugene moved via Duchovtschina looking for supplies, but was forced at the Vop River to abandon his 60 guns and struggle back to the main road at Smolensk. At the same time Augereau's whole brigade of 2,000 men was captured at Liskova on 9 November.
By the time they reached Smolensk the French army was down to 45,000 men. Napoleon reached the city on 9 November, his advance guard arrived on the 10th, and he hoped to distribute supplies to his starving army. But the garrison and others had already practically destroyed the depots in their frenzy for self-preservation. Eugene finally made it to Smolensk on the 13th, by which time Junot and Poniatowski were one day's march west on the road to Krasnoi and Minsk. The Imperial Guard and Murat were in Smolensk, Davout was at Tschuginevo, east of town. Ney had the rear guard further east at the Vop river. These corps shifted west by stages.
Miloradovich left a small force with General Schakovski to attack Ney's rear guard along the main road, while he shifted his main army over to the road through Liskova, nearer to Kutuzov. They marched through Viazma to Yelnya on the 8th and then toward Krasnoi.
Junot and Poniatowski reached Krasnoi on 13 November. (Map) Napoleon and the Guard left Smolensk on the 14th, Eugene left on the 15th, Davout on the 16th on order to remain in supporting distance of Ney, who was to reach Smolensk only on the 15th, and depart on the 17th.
At Krasnoi Kutuzov got ahead of the French and could now interpose directly behind them if he chose. But he still feared Napoleon and didn't want to risk an open battle. He counted on the French army self-destructing in the coming winter weather. He stepped up skirmishing and low level engagements. This caused a series of 6 actions around Krasnoi. These were effective in creating significant losses to the French even though they appeared to be French victories.

Battle of Krasnoi:

The first battle of Krasnoi was on 14 November in which the Guard engaged one of Kutuzov's corps under Ostermann. The second battle on the 15th found the Guard fighting their way past Miloradovich at Merlino. The third battle, also on the 15th, was between Napoleon and Ozarovski south of Krasnoi. The fourth battle on the 16th was between Eugene and Miloradovich who blocked the road into Krasnoi. Eugene managed to bypass the Russian left after sustaining considerable losses. The fifth battle was on the 17th between Napoleon and Kutuzov. Napoleon attacked southeast with part of the Guard (14,000 men) in hopes of forcing Miloradovich to go to Kutuzov's aid, thus clearing the main road for Ney and Davout to reach Krasnoi. Kutuzov thought the French army had already passed and was in process of shifting forward to cut off the stragglers. When Kutuzov realized he was facing Napoleon he called off his advance. The result was that Davout did find the road partly open and Napoleon withdrew toward Lidyi, where Eugene had already been. By then Junot and Poniatowski were already nearing Orsha. Miloradovich inflicted heavy casualties on Davout along the road. The Russians collected 45 guns and 6,000 prisoners in these actions while the cossacks brought in another 112 guns abandoned along the roads from Smolensk. The sixth battle on the 18th occurred when Ney with 6,000 men, having left Smolensk on the 17th, reached Miloradovich's road block and like Eugene was forced to try to bypass it to the right. He first tried twice to break through and then vanished by night march across the Dnieper onto a long circular route that finally brought him into Orsha with a remaining 600 men. The Russians took the rest along with his artillery.
By these running battles the French managed to get through Kutuzov and Miloradovich's last road block. For the rest of the campaign these commanders followed Napoleon at a respectable distance. However they were counting on more road blocks to come, courtesy of Wittgenstein and Chichagov. The French army left Smolensk with 45,000 men still bearing arms. At Orsha the main body controlled by Napoleon still had 25,000 under arms with 110 guns. The army reached the Berezina with 12,000, giving a loss of 33,000 of which probably 20,000 fell in these engagements. The Russians picked up around 10,000 stragglers during this week. During the four days the French also lost 230 cannon.
By 19 November the French army, except for Ney, was at Orsha. They resumed marching for Minsk. With Vitebsk already in Russian hands and its large depot lost, Minsk had the only remaining depot short of Vilna. Napoleon also hoped to get nearer to Schwarzenberg at Minsk. But this road crosses the Berezina at Borisov on a 600 yard long causeway bridge in the middle of a swamp.

David Chandler gives the following strength data for the Grand Army at Orsha.



I Corps


II Corps


IV Corps


V + VIII Corps


IX Corps







250 - 300 guns

Wrede at Gluboko



During these weeks the French suffered losses on their flanks as well. At Riga Macdonald had been harassed for a month, so undertook a small offensive to drive the Russians back from the Dvina. He was not informed enough about the situation in the French center to realize he should consider retiring.
St Cyr retired after the Second Battle of Polotsk. He joined Victor at Lukomlia on 29 October. Their combined army numbered 36,000. Victor decided to renew the offensive against Wittgenstein on the 31st. Victor changed his mind in mid-battle. Wittgenstein then counter-attacked. Victor had to retreat to Czereya, which he reached on 6 November. This gave Wittgenstein the opportunity to detach General La Harpe to seize the huge depots at Vitebsk, which was stormed on the 7th.
Oudinot recovered from wounds and took command of his corps. Victor received another order from Napoleon to attack Wittgenstein and drive him back over the Dvina. This resulted in the battle of Smoliani, after which Victor again retired in the face of Russian superiority (30,000 to 25,000). On 19 November general Corbineau's light cavalry joined Oudinot after fording the Berezina at Studianka, which revealed this option to Oudinot.
Meanwhile Chichagov started out again on 27 October toward Minsk, leaving General Sacken with 27,000 men to face Schwarzenberg. Chichagov reached Slonim on 6 November and then moved on Minsk, which was defended by only 4,000 men. To aid in its defense Dombrowski marched northwest from Bobruisk. On 15 November Chichagov's advance guard routed the forces sent against it from Minsk. He entered the city on the 16th before Dombrowski could reach it, so the latter retired now to Borisov.
Schwarzenberg, learning that Chichagov had departed, advanced once more across the Bug to turn Sacken's left flank and move to Slonim, which he reached on 14 November. Reynier covered Schwarzenberg's flank against Sacken. The Saxon and Austrian forces were now between Sacken and Chichagov. Sacken only discovered the importance of this shift when Schwarzenberg had reached the Narev River. He decided to advance to force the Saxon-Austrian force to return west. Reynier formed a defense line to cover Schwarzenberg's rear and requested immediate assistance. But Sacken hit Reynier's headquarters on the 15th at Volkovisk and drove the Saxons back with heavy losses. On the 16th he assaulted Reynier's left flank hoping to drive him away from Schwarzenberg. However the Austrian commander left 6000 men at Slonim and returned with his main force to strike Sacken in turn in the rear. This forced Sacken to retreat southwestward, after sustaining heavy losses. Schwarzenberg and Reynier followed via Brest- Litovsk and Kovel. Schwarzenberg reached Kobrin on 25 November. Thus he was effectively drawn away from the main action in the French rear. He received Napoleon's order to march on Minsk, which he started to do on the 27th, followed by Reynier on 1 December but it was much too late.
Sacken's offensive had the result of freeing Chichagov from a danger from Schwarzenberg. He marched on 20 November toward Borisov. His advance guard under General Lambert met Dombrovski's division at Borisov. Lambert attacked, driving Dombrovski back across the Berezina with very heavy losses. Lambert was seriously wounded in the action. Dombrovski took his remaining 1,500 men back to join Oudinot at Bobr. On 22 November Chichagov sent his advance guard, now suddenly commanded by General Pahlen, toward Bobr and crossed the Berezina himself to defend Borisov. Situation 21 Nov.
Thus, when the main French army was departing Orsha with 12,000 remaining the two Russian armies that were to close the trap at the Beresina and Ula Rivers were are Czasniki and Borisov and they were opposed by two French corps at Czereya and Bobr. With Minsk and Borisov lost Napoleon was really in a tight spot. He had to find a way across the Berezina that would get him to Vilna. One suggestion he discarded was to march north and attack Wittgenstein. He ordered Oudinot to clear the Berezina and find a passage. Napoleon marched toward Bobr, reaching it on 23 November. The same day Oudinot moved from that town to Borisov and struck Chichagov's advance guard by surprise. Pahlen was driven back with heavy losses clear across the bridges. Chichagov himself was nearly captured at dinner before he managed to escape back across the river, but he did destroy part of the bridge. Oudinot held Borisov including the eastern end of the bridge. On 24 November he did a reconnaissance of the river and selected the ford he had learned of at Studianka. But he continued to make feints south of Borisov.

Battle of Berezina River Crossing:

Napoleon had burned his bridges (pontoon) literally at Orsha, fooled by a temporary cold spell into thinking the rivers would be frozen. Then it thawed. Fortunately for him his engineer bridging commander, Eble, had saved his precious tools and forges etc. Situation 23 Nov. The engineers worked all day on the 24th and 25th tearing down houses and fabricating bridging. The bridges were started at 8 AM on the 26th and completed by 1 PM.
On the 24th Napoleon was at Losnitza and his rear guard under Davout was at Bobr. Victor was at Ratuliczi, Wittgenstein at Kolopodniczi. Kutuzov was just crossing the Dnieper at Kopys.
On the 25th Napoleon reached Borisov and the rear guard was at Krupki. Situation 25 Nov. Victor remained in place. But Wittgenstein moved toward Baran to approach Chichagov and cover the Ula River.
At this point Chichagov thought Napoleon would move south to join Schwarzenberg. He had already seized the bridges at Zembin as well as covered the ford at Studianka. But he thought the French activity there was the false demonstration. Therefor on the 26th, despite contrary advice and urging from General Tschaplitz who was on the spot, he shifted his main force south and withdrew from Zembin to Borisov, leaving only cossack patrols north of the town. These also failed to destroy the critical bridges at Zembin.
On the 26th the remaining French main army totalling about 30,000 under arms and twice that many stragglers was between Losnitza, Borisov, and Studianka. Oudinot crossed the bridges at 1 PM, driving General Tchaplitz's remaining troops, which were hurrying back north, back to Stakov. Ney followed immediately. Victor marched during the evening of 26th to Borisov with Wittgenstein following to Kostritza.
On the 27th Napoleon crossed with the Imperial Guard. Eugene and Davout crossed that night. During the 27th there were engagements on both sides of the river. On the right (west) bank Oudinot and Ney drove Chichagov's returning advance guard back, while the very cautious Russian commander himself remained at Borisov. On the left (east) bank Wittgenstein also was too cautious. He moved toward Borisov even though he knew of the crossing point at Studianka. He captured one of Victor's divisions commanded by General Partonneau (4,000 men) as it was moving from Borisov to Studenka.
On 28 November only Victor remained on the east bank with only one division. Situation 28 Nov. His other remaining division was sent back (minus its artillery that could not cross back). The idea was to delay at least one more day to enable more of the mass of stragglers to escape. On the 28th there were again engagements on both banks. Wittgenstein attacked Victor on the east bank. Chichagov defended against the French on the west bank. The French retreated, but for those on the west bank it was a move west that eluded Chichagov. Wittgenstein collected thousands more prisoners and more cannon. Situation map.
On 29 November the main French remanent was at Zembin headed on the direct road to Vilna. As they passed the dyke at Zembin the French destroyed the bridges behind them. This delayed the Russians further. The Russian generals sent only cossacks and other cavalry in slow pursuit. They didn't have to press the issue and in fact couldn't as weather was killing off their men almost as fast as the French. It was during these weeks that the temperature dropped into the minus 20 - 30 degree range. Of the "Grand Army" another 15,000 died between the Berezina River and Vilna. There they met their enemy, typhus again. Of the 25,000 who made Vilna only 3,000 survived. Retreat map.
Napoleon left the army on 5 December at Smorgoni.
Macdonald departed the Riga and Mitau area on 19 December. The Prussian corps changed sides during this retreat. He reached Konigsberg on 3 January 1813.
Schwarzenberg delayed at Slonim until 14 December, deceived by the false reports being issued by Napoleon's headquarters. He retired into Galicia. Reynier also retreated, being followed by Sacken.
According to Clausewitz, in January 1813 the French army surviving behind the Vistula amounted to 23,000 men. The Austrian and Prussian armies returned with 35,000 together. This gives a total of 58,000. Counting reinforcements that joined during the campaign the total strength of the Grand Army reached 610,000. This gives a total loss of 552,000 men. The army started with 182,000 horses of which about 15,000 remained with the Prussian and Austrian contingents. Of the original 1,372 artillery pieces the Austrians and Prussians brought back about 150. This gives a loss of over 1,200 guns.
David Chandler has slightly different statistical data. He counts 655,000 crossing the Vistula including reinforcements with 80,000 cavalry horses. Of this 450,000 were in the main attack force, and the flank armies had 68,000. For January 1813 he counts 93,000 remaining. He estimates total losses at 570,000 of whom 370,000 died and 200,000 were prisoners (but of whom less than 50% survived). He estimates the loss in horses at 200,000 and cannon at 1050.

Graph of the French army strength during the campaign.



We may categorize the reasons for failure as external and internal.
Technological inadequacy - The transportation system that relied on horses and oxen was simply not adequate for the demand placed on it. In addition the condition of roads and bridges was far worse than Napoleon or any French planners had imagined. There was little fodder for the animals
The command system looked good on paper and did perform remarkably well in some ways. Dispatches could arrive from Paris in two weeks until the Cossacks began intercepting the postal carriages. But even at its best the system could not pass messages back and forth between detached commanders in a sufficiently timely manner.
Napoleon immediately blamed the weather, and his story has been repeated over the years. But the early months were actually too hot. Then came heavy rains that washed out roads. The fall was exceptionally and deceptively warm. This encouraged Napoleon into a false sense of security. He was already defeated before the weather turned cold. On the other hand the sub-zero temperature and snow and ice on the roads turned his defeat into a total disaster. Considering his performance under dire circumstances in France in 1814 and in Germany in 1813 one might argue that under similar climatic conditions he would have managed at least to salvage his position in October - November 1812.
Among his failures was an unrealistic appraisal of the international diplomatic situation. His campaign relied greatly on Sweden and Ottoman Empire placing significant military pressure on Russia that would force the Tsar to retain sizable forces to oppose them.
Napoleon's personality led to a massive case of cultural blindness. He simply could not comprehend the level of Russian intransigence. And this was despite his intensive study of the campaigns of Charles XII and Frederick II against Russian armies, not to mention his own campaign at Eylau and Friedland.

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