The Defeat of Napoleon in Russia

The Campaign of 1812 should have been a another crusade for

Napoleon, but he now faced 2 new policies that he had never faced

before, the severe Russian winter and the notorious scorched-earth

policy. On June 23, 1812 Napoleon's Grande Armee, over 500,000 men

strong, poured over the Russian border. An equal amount of Russian

forces awaited them. The result of the campaign was a surprise. Two

authors, General carl von Clausewitz and Brett James, show

similarities in reasons why Napoleon had lost this campaign to Russia.

Napoleon believed that after a few quick victorious battles, he could

convince Alexander to return to the Continental System. He also

decided that if he occupied Moscow, the Russian government would

crumple and ask for peace. " A single blow delivered at the heart of

the Russian Empire, at Moscow the Great, at Moscow the Holy, will

ineztly put this whole blind, apathetic mass at my mercy." pg 6,

1812 Napoleon's Defeat in Russia.

This was his belief he expressed in March 1812. However, when

Napoleon eventually took over Moscow, the Tsar still did not

surrender. Napoleon, sent a message to the Tsar, demanding a immediate

surrender. However, the Tsar could not surrender because if he did, he

would be assassinated by the nobles. Clausewitz replies by saying, "

Napoleon was unable to grasp the fact that Alexander would not, could

not negotiate. The Tsar knew well that he would be disposed and

assassinated if he tried so." pg 256, The Campaign of 1812 in


General Clausewitz said, "Napoleon believed if he defeated the

Russian Army and occupied Moscow, the Russian leadership will fall

apart and the government would call for peace." pg 253, The Campaign

of 1812 in Russia Brett James also agreed that Napoleon's occupation

had no result. " The occupation of Napoleon in Moscow did not have a

effect on the government." pg 13, 1812 Napoleon's Defeat in Russia

With his battle plan set, Napoleon prepared his troops for the attack

on Russia. But, Napoleon did not consider the fierce Russian winter

which awaited him. According to Ludwig Wilhelm Gottlob Schlosser, a

onlooker, he described the army by saying, "The French, down to the

lowliest drummer were very fastidious. These poor French devils were

not satisfied with less than soup, meat and vegetables, roast, and

salad for their midday meal, and there was no sign of their famous


They were completely devoid of the coming winter." pg 13, 1812

Napoleon's Defeat in Russia Napoleon was even warned by General Rapp

about the extremities of the oncoming winter in Russia. "The natives

say we shall have a severe winter," Napoleon retorted scornfully, "

Bah! You and your natives! We shall see how fine it is." pg 147, 1812

Napoleon's Defeat in Russia Napoleon should have heeded Rapp's words.

As the Grand Armee marched toward Moscow, many horses and men were

lost in the freezing snow, and for those who remained, their morale

and effectiveness was at the nadir.

General Clausewitz states his point by saying, " With more

precaution and better regulations as to subsistence, with more careful

consideration of his marches, which would have prevented the

unnecessary and enormous accumulation of masses on one and the same

road, he would have preserved his army in a more effective condition."

pg 255, The Campaign of 1812 in Russia Brett James also shared the

same opinion, " Napoleon appeared to have made no effort to discover

the facts in Russia, or prepare his troops for it." pg 140, 1812

Napoleon's Defeat in Russia.

As Napoleon and his army was making their way to Moscow, they

encountered typhus, colds, and dysentery. Even the mighty Napoleon had

caught a mild case of the flu. However, his soldiers had received the

brunt of the attack. Captain Thomas- Joesph Aubry relives this ordeal,

" After this the typhus made appalling inroads in our ranks. We were

fourty-three officers in our ward. All of them died, one after the

other, and delirious from this dreadful disease, most of them singing,

some in Latin, others in German, others again in Italian - and singing

psalms, canticles, or the mass." pg 210, 1812 Napoleon's Defeat in

Russia General Clausewitz wrote, " The bad water and the air-borne

insects caused dysentery, typhus, and diarrhea." pg 136, The Campaign

of 1812 in Russia Brett