Napoleon's Conflict with Russia

Napoleon was one of the greatest military leaders of all time.

By 1812 Napoleon had expanded the territory of France all over Europe

including Spain, Italy, Holland, and Switzerland. The countries that

Napoleon did not directly control, he was usually allied with. The

turning point of Napoleon's career also came in 1812 when war broke

out between France and Russia because of Alexander I's refusal to

enforce the continental.

Even the French nation could not provide all the manpower and

supplies needed to carry out the Emperor's grandiose plan for subduing

Russia. Throughout 1811, he worked to mobilize the entire continent

against Russia. He not only levied the vassal kingdoms in Spain,

Italy, and Germany but also summoned Austria and Prussia to furnish

their share of men and goods. Altogether, Napoleon could count on

nearly 700,000 men of 20 nationalities of whom more than 600,000

crossed the border. Grown far beyond its original intended size, the

army was difficult to assemble and hard to feed. Between Tilsit and

Moscow, there lay over 600 miles of hostile barren countryside.

Because of lack of supplies and the difficulty to feed the large army,

Napoleon's plan was simple: bring about a battle, defeat the Russian

army, and dictate a settlement. Apparently neither he nor his

soldiers, who cheerfully began crossing the Nieman River, thought

beyond the immediate goal.

Already 300 miles into Russia, Napoleon had not yet found a

way to exploit his advantage. In the Emperor's programming the

resources necessary to achieve his objective, he had anticipated

fighting a battle within a month after crossing the Nieman. Toward the

end of that month Napoleon began to realize that events were

disproving the validity of his estimates. Dying horses littered the

roads and the advanced guard found little forage as Russians

everywhere abandoned their homes. Napoleon knew that he needed to

fight. At Smolensk, he set up for a battle and waited but the

Russians, afraid of a trap steadily withdrew their troops from

Smolensk and continued to retreat deeper into Russia.

The only major battle in the Russian campaign proved that

something was definitely lacking in Napoleon's judgment. Borodino was

a battle of legendary proportions. Before the battle Napoleon

proclaimed, "Soldiers, here is the battle you have so long desired!"

However, the fight was inconclusive. At its end, Napoleon found

himself the possessor, not of a victory, but of a barren hillside and

an increasingly compelling commitment to advance further into the

east. Well into the battle, the French had almost cracked the left

side of the Russian Army. Several French generals had requested that

Napoleon would commit the guard infantry into battle. This would

create the final blow and insure the Russian defeat. After 14 hours of

intense combat, the fighting died out at nightfall, and Mikhail

Illarionovich Kutusov, the Russian general, gratefully began to

retreat his troops. The guard infantry had remained unused. After the

Battle of Borodino, in which losses on both sides totaled !

over 70,000 men, Napoleon had 100,000 effectives remaining, while

Kutusov probably had no more than 55,000. Both sides claimed a

victory, whereas actually, both sides had lost. While the Russian

army filed disconsolately toward Moscow, the Emperor of the French

rationalized his indecision at Borodino by contenting himself with the

capture of the city.

On September 14, Napoleon rode into Moscow at the head of a

fraction of the Empire's military strength. Meanwhile, Napoleon's

opponent had made a decision that was to shape the remainder of the

campaign. Kutusov made up his mind not to fight another battle in

defense of Moscow. Kutusov ordered the city's population out into the

countryside, released all inmates from the city jails, and destroyed

the city firefighting equipment. Napoleon and his army of 100,000

arrived only to find a handful of the original inhabitants and several

hundred criminals and lunatics freely roaming and plundering the

streets. That night, fires sprang up all over the city. Fire swept

through the city for several days and by morning it was apparent that

most of the city had been consumed by the flames. Left with no choice,

Napoleon sent peace proposals to Alexander, but Alexander refused to

even discuss the concept of peace while the French remained on Russian

soil. Napoleon was given an opportunity to evacuate Moscow by acting

like he was reinforcing his brother-in-law's