Napoleon's military expedition to Russia


July 6, 2022

Napoleon's campaign to Russia was a campaign of the French Empire against the Russian Empire in 1812.


In Russia, the same war is called the Patriotic War or the Patriotic War of 1812. In Russia, in addition to the soldiers, a large number of volunteer peasants and farm workers joined the fight against the French advance, and the war took on the character of a people's war. In France, it is known as the Russian campaign (French: Campagne de Russie).

The beginning of the military expedition

The French Grande Armée crossed the Niemen River on June 24, 1812, and began advancing toward Vilnius and Moscow. The French and their allies did well at first, and won several battles, e.g. The battle of Smolensk, but in the first battle of Polotsk, the Russians managed to stop the advance of French troops towards the Russian capital, St. Petersburg. The Russians used scorched earth tactics extensively. The turning point of the war was finally the battle of Borodino near Moscow on September 7, which is the biggest and most destructive of the battles of both the Patriotic War and all the Napoleonic wars. France won the battle, but suffered terrible losses in it, which it was no longer able to replace. The Russian army, on the other hand, recovered from its losses. General Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov decided to evacuate Moscow and leave it to the French. Napoleon and his troops moved into the evacuated city on September 14, but the city caught fire soon after the French occupied it. The French set off on their return journey from Moscow in October. By the end of the campaign, practically the entire Grande Armée had been destroyed.

Attempted Peace Negotiations

On June 25, 1812, at 10 o'clock, the Russian Emperor Alexander I decided to send the former Minister of Police, infantry general Aleksandr Balashov, to take a letter to Napoleon I, in which he proposed the status quo ex ante, the retreat of the French troops to their starting positions west of the Niemen to await negotiations between Russia and France. He set off with Alexander I's letter to Napoleon I on June 26 at 2 o'clock in the morning. That same morning, Balašov reached the French outposts in Rossieny (Raseinai) in Kaunas Governorate. Balašov was received first by French marshal and cavalry commander Joachim Murat and then by army commander Louis-Nicolas d'Avout.30. On June 1, Balašov was sent to Napoleon in Vilnius, who invited him to dinner on July 1 with the Prince of Neuchâtel, Louis Berthier and the Duke of Istria, General of Division Jean-Baptiste Bessières and Louis de Caulaincourt. Napoleon's response to Alexander I's proposal to retreat behind the Niemen to start negotiations received a counter-proposal, according to which negotiations (in the new situation) would be held in Vilnius, which Alexander I rejected as offensive. During the negotiations, Napoleon had asked Balašov the shortest route to Moscow. Balashov had replied that there were many roads to Moscow and that Charles XII had gone from Poltava, referring to the great defeat of the Swedish forces in the Ukraine. On July 14, Alexander I left for Moscow at the request of his generals. He had not taken part in commanding the troops as Commander-in-Chief.


North from the side

In order of battle, the great army of the French Empire was divided into two parts. The first part, commanded by King Jérôme Bonaparte, which extended to the shore of the Baltic Sea as the left flank in the north, was commanded by Jacques Etienne Macdonald. Its mission was to proceed from Tilsit in the direction of Riga. The right wing of the first section in the south, commanded by Karl Schwarzenberg, was along the Bug River. The first part included e.g. Józef Antoni Poniatowski's V Army Corps, Jean-Louis-Ebénézer Reynier and Dominique-Joseph-Re