Sunday, June 24, 2012

Napoleon Invades Russia June 24, 1812

Two hundred years ago today Napoleon's Army crossed the Nieman River (at Kovno) which was the western boundary of Alexander's Russia.  His intent was to defeat Alexander I, force him to stay within the Continental blockage of Great Britain and extract a few other concessions from him while he was at it.

European invasion of Russia had been tried before, 105 years earlier and would be tried again 129 years later (in fact, the 71st anniversary of the latter invasion was June 22).  The results were the same for all three though Napoleon set a record for in and out in under 6 months.

The Wikipedia link above has a pretty good outline of the Russian Campaign, including Joseph Minard's famous graph showing the decreasing size of Napoleon's army on its way to and from Moscow.  For more detailed reading, Richard K Riehn's 1812: Napoleon's Russian Campaign is excellent.  If you want an eye witness account, Clausewitz' The Campaign of 1812 in Russia is classic, though I have not read it and of course, Tolstoy's War and Peace is a must read.

As we drove through the Bohemian and Moravian countryside in April it was easy to imagine it filled with the colourful armies of the Napoleonic era: French, Italian, Austrian, Russian, Prussian...  On our way from Prague to Vienna we passed not far from the site of the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz where Napoleon had decisively defeated Tsar Alexander I and Francis II of Austria.


  1. Russia is so big, it can swallow up any invading army. Especially an army which does not know how to deal with the brutal Russian winter. Only a fool would try invading.

  2. Recently read 'The Family of the Vourdalak' by Alexis Tolstoy (1843)
    Would be interested in any Vampire folklore that still exist in your area. While eastern Europe was in the throws of witch mania, western Europe was experiencing vampire hysteria.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  3. Nothing like wanting to take charge of miles and miles of miles and miles. :-)

  4. RB, The Russian winter is actually no worse that the prairie winters and it never really did get that cold during Napoleon's retreat until after he had left Russia. He lost most of his men getting to Moscow.

    Ol'B, I have never heard anyone speak of vampires. If there are such tales, they would likely be more towards western Ukraine part of which (Bukovina) was part of Romania in times past.

    Demeur, logisitics killed all the invasions eventually, in particular Napoleon's. "An army marches on its stomach".


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