Russian Snows: Coming of Age in Napoleons Army

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But most importantly, Napoleon himself was not in the same physical and mental state as in years past. He had become overweight and increasingly prone to various maladies. Russia viewed this as against its interests and as a potential launching-point for an invasion of Russia. In an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, Napoleon in his own words termed this war the Second Polish War.

Tsar Alexander I found Russia in an economic bind as his country had little in the way of manufacturing, yet was rich in raw materials and relied heavily on trade with Napoleon's continental system for both money and manufactured goods. Russia's withdrawal from the system was a further incentive to Napoleon to force a decision. The invasion of Russia clearly and dramatically demonstrates the importance of logistics in military planning, especially when the land will not provide for the number of troops deployed in an area of operations far exceeding the experience of the invading army.

The front of the army received whatever could be provided while the formations behind starved. Napoleon made extensive preparations providing for the provisioning of his army. The Vistula river valley was built up in — as a supply base. A massive arsenal was established in Warsaw. Danzig contained enough provisions to feed , men for 50 days.

Nine pontoon companies, three pontoon trains with pontoons each, two companies of marines, nine sapper companies, six miner companies and an engineer park were deployed for the invasion force. Twenty train battalions provided most of the transportation, with a combined load of 8, tons. Many of the commanders lacked the operational and administrative skills and apparatus to efficiently move so many troops across such large distances of hostile territory.

Napoleon intended to trap and destroy the Russian army on the frontier or before Smolensk. Anthony Joes wrote in the Journal of Conflict Studies that:.

Napoleon's Moscow Campaign:

Figures on how many men Napoleon took into Russia and how many eventually came out vary rather widely. The numbers on this chart have , crossing the Neman with Napoleon, 22, taking a side trip early on in the campaign, , surviving the battles en route to Moscow and returning from there; only 4, survive the march back, to be joined by 6, that survived from that initial 22, in the feint attack northward; in the end, only 10, crossed the Neman back out of the initial , These forces, however, could count on reinforcements from the second line, which totaled , men and 8, Cossacks with guns and rounds of ammunition.

Of these about , men were actually available for the defense against the invasion. In the third line were the 36 recruit depots and militias, which came to the total of approximately , men of various and highly disparate military values, of which about , actually took part in the defense. Thus, the grand total of all the forces was , men, of which about , gradually came into action against the Grand Army. This bottom line, however, includes more than 80, Cossacks and militiamen, as well as about 20, men who garrisoned the fortresses in the operational area.

The majority of the officer corps came from the aristocracy. The Baltic German nobility were more inclined to invest in their children's education than the ethnic Russian nobility, which led to the government favoring them when granting officers' commissions.


  • Citation Information.
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Sweden, Russia's only ally, did not send supporting troops, but the alliance made it possible to withdraw the 45,man Russian corps Steinheil from Finland and use it in the later battles 20, men were sent to Riga. The invasion commenced on 24 June Napoleon had sent a final offer of peace to Saint Petersburg shortly before commencing operations. He never received a reply, so he gave the order to proceed into Russian Poland. He initially met little resistance and moved quickly into the enemy's territory.

The French coalition of forces amounted to , men and 1, cannons being opposed by the Russian armies combining to muster , Russians, cannons, and 15, Cossacks. The sites had been selected by Napoleon in person. The 25th of June found Napoleon's group past the bridge head with Ney's command approaching the existing crossings at Alexioten. Murat's reserve cavalry provided the vanguard with Napoleon the guard and Davout's 1st corps following behind. Eugene's command would cross the Niemen further north at Piloy , and MacDonald crossed the same day.

Jerome's command wouldn't complete its crossing at Grodno until the 28th. Napoleon rushed towards Vilnius pushing the infantry forward in columns that suffered from heavy rain then stifling heat. The Russian headquarters was in fact centered in Vilnius on June 24 and couriers rushed news about the crossing of the Niemen to Barclay de Tolley.

Before the night had passed orders were sent out to Bagration and Platov to take the offensive. Alexander left Vilnius on June 26 and Barclay assumed overall command. Although Barclay wanted to give battle he assessed it as a hopeless situation and ordered Vilnius's magazines burned and its bridge dismantled. Wittgenstein moved his command to Perkele passing beyond Macdonald and Oudinot's operations with Wittgenstein's rear guard clashing with Oudinout's forward elements. Bagration was ordered to Vileyka which moved him towards Barclay though the order's intent is still something of a mystery to this day.

On June the 28th Napoleon entered Vilnius with only light skirmishing. The foraging in Lithuania proved hard as the land was mostly barren and forested. The supplies of forage were less than that of Poland and two days of forced marching made a bad supply situation worse. The thunderstorms of the 24th turned into other downpours, turning the tracks—some diarists claim there were no roads in Lithuania—into bottomless mires. Wagon sank up to their hubs; horses dropped from exhaustion; men lost their boots.

Stalled wagons became obstacles that forced men around them and stopped supply wagons and artillery columns. Then came the sun which would bake the deep ruts into canyons of concrete, where horses would break their legs and wagons their wheels. He reported the times, dates and places, of events reporting thunderstorms on the 6th of June and men dying of sunstroke by the 11th. The Bavarian corps was reporting sick by June Desertion was high among Spanish and Portuguese formations. These deserters proceeded to terrorize the population, looting whatever lay to hand. A Polish officer reported that areas around him were depopulated.

The French light Cavalry was shocked to find itself outclassed by Russian counterparts so much so that Napoleon had ordered that infantry be provided as back up to French light cavalry units. Despite 30, cavalry, contact was not maintained with Barclay's forces leaving Napoleon guessing and throwing out columns to find his opposition. The operation intended to split Bagration's forces from Barclay's forces by driving to Vilnius had cost the French forces 25, losses from all causes in a few days.

Napoleon assumed this was Bagration's 2nd Army and rushed out before being told it was not 24 hours later. Napoleon then attempted to use Davout, Jerome and Eugene out on his right in a hammer and anvil to catch Bagration to destroy the 2nd army in an operation spanning Ashmyany and Minsk. This operation had failed to produce results on his left before with Macdonald and Oudinot. Doctorov had moved from Djunaszev to Svir narrowly evading French forces, with 11 regiments and a battery of 12 guns heading to join Bagration when moving too late to stay with Doctorov.

Command disputes between Jerome and General Vandamme would not help the situation. Davout had lost 10, men marching to Minsk and would not attack Bagration without Jerome joining him. Two French Cavalry defeats by Platov kept the French in the dark and Bagration was no better informed with both overestimating the other's strength, Davout thought Bagration had some 60, men and Bagration thought Davout had 70, Bagration was getting orders from both Alexander's staff and Barclay which Barclay didn't know and left Bagration without a clear picture of what was expected of him and the general situation.

This stream of confused orders to Bagration had him upset with Barclay which would have repercussions later. Napoleon reached Vilnius on 28 June, leaving 10, dead horses in his wake. These horses were vital to bringing up further supplies to an army in desperate need. Napoleon had supposed that Alexander would sue for peace at this point and was to be disappointed; it would not be his last disappointment. Barclay continued his retreat and with the exception of the occasional rearguard clash remained unhindered in his movements ever further east.

Rapid forced marches quickly caused desertion, starvation, exposed the troops to filthy water and disease, while the logistics trains lost horses by the thousands, further exacerbating the problems. Barclay, the Russian commander-in-chief, refused to fight despite Bagration's urgings. Several times he attempted to establish a strong defensive position, but each time the French advance was too quick for him to finish preparations and he was forced to retreat once more.

When the French army progressed further, it encountered serious problems in foraging, aggravated by scorched earth tactics of the Russian forces [73] [74] advocated by Karl Ludwig von Phull. Political pressure on Barclay to give battle and the general's continuing reluctance to do so viewed as intransigence by the Russian nobility led to his removal.

He was replaced in his position as commander-in-chief by the popular, veteran Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov. Kutuzov, however, continued much along the line of the general Russian strategy, fighting the occasional defensive engagement but being careful not to risk the army in an open battle. Instead the Russian army fell back ever deeper into Russia's interior. Following a defeat at Smolensk on August 16—18 he continued the move east.

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Unwilling to give up Moscow without a fight, Kutuzov took up a defensive position some 75 miles before Moscow at Borodino. Meanwhile, French plans to quarter at Smolensk were abandoned, and Napoleon pressed his army on after the Russians. About a third of Napoleon's soldiers were killed or wounded; Russian losses, while heavier, could be replaced due to Russia's large population, since Napoleon's campaign took place on Russian soil.

The battle ended with the Russian Army, while out of position, still offering resistance. By withdrawing, the Russian army preserved its combat strength, eventually allowing it to force Napoleon out of the country. The Russian army could only muster half of its strength on September 8.

Kutuzov chose to act in accordance with his scorched earth tactics and retreat, leaving the road to Moscow open. Kutuzov also ordered the evacuation of the city. By this point the Russians had managed to draft large numbers of reinforcements into the army bringing total Russian land forces to their peak strength in of , with perhaps , in the vicinity of Moscow—the remnants of Kutuzov's army from Borodino partially reinforced.

Both armies began to move and rebuild. The Russian retreat was significant for two reasons; firstly, the move was to the south and not the east; secondly, the Russians immediately began operations that would continue to deplete the French forces. Platov, commanding the rear guard on September 8, offered such strong resistance that Napoleon remained on the Borodino field.

Another battle was given throwing back French forces at Semolino causing 2, losses on both sides, however some 10, wounded would be left behind by the Russian Army. The French Army began to move out on September 10 with the still ill Napoleon not leaving until the 12th. Some 18, men were ordered in from Smolensk, and Marshal Victor's corps supplied another 25, Miloradovich finally retreated under a flag of truce.

On September 14, , Napoleon moved into Moscow. Marshal Lannes was also killed during the battle. Meanwhile French forces had forced the Austrians out of Italy and Napoleon now concentrated a larger and better-prepared army to cross the Danube in June. He massed nearly , men and gained strategic surprise by crossing the Danube at night to face Archduke Charles , men before 50, Austrians under Archduke John could join them.

This was the battle of Wagram , which was to cost both sides in excess of 30, dead and force the Austrians to once more sue for peace. As can be seen Europe was now learning to mobilise huge armies to face the French and the huge number of dead and wounded was starting to drain Napoleons resources, his ambition was starting to decimate a young French population. The year is regarded by many as the height of Napoleons power but with rising death toils and trouble in Spain the clouds of his future downfall were gathering. European armies were learning, especially the Austrians and although defeated during the Wagram campaign the margin of victory was narrowing and the European monarchs knew this.

With relations worsening between France and Russia, British diplomatic pressure persuaded Russia and Sweden to withdraw from Napoleon's Continental System and sign a treaty with Britain in June Napoleon was about to make the mistake that would cost him his Empire. He gathered , troops in Poland and on 24th June he crossed into Russia to crush her once and for all. Of this huge army only , were French the rest were made up of troops from allies and subject nations across Europe. Russian troops in the immediate area amounted to about , but the French advance was delayed by heavy rain and bad weather, a taste of things to come.

Like they would do in the future the Russians fell back destroying all resources as they went increasing the huge supply demands on the invaders. After a few brief clashes the Russians continued to fall back and in August came under the command of Kutuzov. Napoleon had planned to winter the Army at Smolensk, but Russian forces and the logistical problems force him to try and bring the Russians to battle in a decisive encounter.

The result was the battle of Borodino 7th September , during which Napoleon's generalship was less than impressive, possibly due to illness. The battle was a pointless bloodbath in which the Russians were defeated with the loss of 40, men and the French suffered 30, casualties. The French now entered an empty Moscow and found it devoid of much needed supplies and on fire soon after they entered. The forward elements of the army number about , men with the rest spread out all along the line of advance, morale was poor particularly among the allies and raids against the French supply lines by Russian Cossacks were taking a toll.

Facing , well-supplied troops under Kutuzov the French began the famous retreat from Moscow on 19th October The snows came early and the retreat became a disaster, men starving, horse often eaten by the men and harassing attacks by Russian irregulars and Cossacks. The defence allowed most of the French to cross but by the 8th December only 10, effective troops remained.

The Russians who had suffered very heavy casualties halted the pursuit but the French had lost , men. Napoleon's army was destroyed, many veteran troops had died, tens of thousands of military horses, thousands of wagons and hundreds of guns. Europe now rose against the weakened Tyrant, many states had uprisings and many allies now deserted, and it was the beginning of the end.

On paper this was a vast amount but in reality many were young, poorly trained and few veterans survived Napoleons ambition had bled France dry of young men. The German campaign that followed is normally known as the War of Liberation. Napoleon advanced towards Leipzig in April intending to take the battle to the allies but was surprised on the march and fought a battle near Lutzen , it was a draw and it was clear that Napoleon could still show some of his old skill and would have won the day if he had not had such green troops.

On 4th June Napoleon secured an Armistice, which lasted till August and in this rest period both sides, built up their forces for the final clash. Austria finally entered the war on the 12th August and Napoleon now faced 3 allied armies, , in Bohemia, Blucher with , in Silesia and the renegade former French Marshal Bernadotte with , Prussians and Swedes in the north.

Napoleon had about , men, but the allies picked away at Napoleons outlying forces without engaging the main body, Bernadotte and Blucher achieving victories at Grossbeeren and Katzbach during August.

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Napoleon did achieve some successes at Dresden but the net was closing in. On 16th October the battle of Leipzig was fought also know as the battle of the nations. This was one of the largest battles in history and had one of the largest death tolls of any battle in history with about 60, dead on each side according to some records. Napoleon was.

How Dutch Engineers Saved Napoleon’s Grand Armée from Annihilation

Napoleon could have secured a favourable peace at this point but he refused the allies' offers and in January the invasion of France began, with Allied troops invaded from all routes even British forces under Lord Wellington attacking from Spain. Napoleon fought brilliantly and won eight battles but against such a huge force and with the young conscript army under his command he had little chance and was driven steadily back. Finally cornered, ill and exhausted Napoleon abdicated on 11th April He attempted to persuade the allies to accept his infant son as his successor but they refused.

The victors settled down to redraw the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna, but Napoleon had one last throw of the dice to make. He marched into Paris triumphant and prepared to meet the quickly mobilizing allied armies. With all the hallmarks of his old speed and vigour within a few months he had an army of , with another , in depots and training camps hurriedly training another , In his Army of the North centred around Paris he had , but many of his old Marshals were either dead or not willing to follow their old leader, years of constant warfare had left most of his veterans dead or crippled.

He filled his command staff with loyal but often less than capable officers and Napoleon himself was suffering from bouts of illness, which left him indisposed at crucial moments. In early June Napoleon moved to crush his enemies before they could mass in overwhelming numbers with the Anglo-Prussian armies in the Low Countries being the most important target. Blucher had , Prussians under his command while Lord Wellington had a mixed bag of British, Dutch, Hanoverian and Brunswick troops.

When Napoleon seized Charleroi on 15th June, Blucher acted quickly concentrating his army at Sombreffe while Wellington was 15 miles away to the west showing great caution until he was sure of Napoleon's intentions. The key crossroads of Quatre Bras lay between the allied armies. Knowing this Napoleon sent Ney with 25, men on 16th June to hold the crossroads while Napoleon attacked Blucher's 83, Prussians with 77, French at Ligny.

Napoleon soon had the Prussians in full retreat and all was going to plan as long as Ney held Quatre Bras. Napoleon was soon to be disappointed. Ney possibly suffering from what is now called post traumatic stress had believed the crossroads to be held in far greater strength than it was and his hesitation allowed Wellington to bring up reinforcements.

What if Napoleon Never Rose To Power?

With Ney's forces tied up Napoleon committed 33, men under Grouchy to pursue the Prussians, which was to cost him dear in the later battle. Heavy rain turned the battlefield of Waterloo into a muddy morass the next day and the stage was set for Napoleons last defeat. Wellington deployed his troops behind a low ridgeline to protect from artillery on the 18th June, Grouchy having lost contact with the fleeing Prussians in the heavy rain; there was now nothing between the two Allied armies. Hoping for the ground to dry out to allow his big guns to move more easily Napoleon delayed his attack till noon wasting further time.

Grouchy's failure to reengage the Prussians was to prove decisive as they reached the battlefield late in the day but in time to have an enormous impact, Napoleon possibly ill showing no tactical flair. Defeated, his army scattered or dead, Napoleon abdicated for a second time on 21st June He was exiled to the South Atlantic island of St Helena under a watchful jailor with no chance of escape. His health rapidly deteriorated and he died on 5th May Napoleon is without doubt one of the greatest leaders in military history, his skill as a general both tactically and strategically is without question, his rise to power astounding.

Few men in history have had such an impact on world history and he easily ranks along side such leaders as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Like those leaders he was an authoritarian leader and a dictator whose skill was matched by his ambition, one of those who did not know when the possible ended and the impossible began. He was ruthless and would tolerate no argument, which produced a cadre of Marshals capable of carrying out orders well but having never learnt to think and act for themselves.

This was to prove disastrous as at Waterloo and in the later stages of the Napoleonic wars. Wellington said that Napoleon was worth 40, men on the battlefield but he was just one man who could not be everywhere at once, as the Empire was faced with war on several fronts, the Emperor could not be everywhere. How different the outcome of the Peninsular War would have been if Napoleon had been there is an interesting hypothetical question.

Napoleon was a tremendous innovator and administrator although ably assisted. His skill with logistics and the ability to raise tremendous amounts of manpower was at times amazing. He also instigated many fiscal, legal and educational reforms in France but those are not within the scope of this article.

As a leader of men he was a great motivator and orator, he knew how to inspire fierce loyalty bordering on worship despite the fact he would cynically send tens of thousands to their deaths if it suited his purpose. He made a point of walking the line of troops before a battle and recognising a veteran or two and taking to them of old times, a human touch that some have suggested was staged to raise morale, something that would not have been beyond him.

Militarily he honed the Corps system of army groups able to function completely independently with their own logistics, scouts, command, artillery etc which allowed him to time and time again to divide his enemies with a smaller force holding a much larger enemy while he concentrated and destroyed another enemy force. He enlarged the cavalry and once again made it a real battlefield shock force not just scouts and pursuing forces and in many battles large devastating cavalry charges turned the tide.

Most famously he made use of the column formation for his infantry, which proved a very successful mobile formation against such linear armies as that of Austria and Prussia, with only the tactical skill of Lord Wellington being able to regularly defeat it. As a former artilleryman he increased the size and number of guns and the Napoleonic artillery made great progress towards its modern form in both technology and tactics.

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