Moscow, Retreat from

Moscow, Retreat from
   Napoleon Bonaparte ’s retreat from the Russian capital after his disastrous invasion of that nation. After the significant military defeats at Austerlitz and Friedland in 1805 and 1807 respectively Russia was forced to sign the Treaty of Tilsit and maintain peaceful relations with France from 1807 to 1812. During this period, Russia was part of Napoleon’s Continental System, a reluctant collaboration of subjugated or conquered European nations who, through various trade embargos, were supposed to help Napoleon bring England to its knees. Russia’s participation in this system, however, was only a product of Napoleon’s military power, not common interests, for Russia had a long trading relationship with England. Moreover, Tsar Alexander I was suspicious of Napoleon’s ambitions in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. When it became apparent that Alexander would no longer cooperate, Napoleon decided to invade Russia. He amassed an army of 600,000 men, 200,000 animals, and 20,000 vehicles and entered Russia in late June 1812. The Russians retreated eastward avoiding battle and drawing the French further into Russia and destroying everything as they went. Finally in September, the Russians took their stand at Borodino, under the leadership of Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov. Although the French won, they lost 40,000 men and failed to destroy the Russian army. Napoleon’s forces then proceeded to Moscow, arriving on September 14, 1812.
   Napoleon had expected to be greeted by a delegation of nobles; instead, he found the city abandoned and in flames. Napoleon took up headquarters in Moscow and waited for Alexander to admit defeat. When Alexander refused, Napoleon was faced with the grim prospect of staying in Moscow through the bitter Russian winter. He decided to retreat and on October 19, 1812, 95,000 troops left Moscow. Napoleon ordered them to destroy many of Moscow’s great monuments, like St. Basil’s Cathedral. During their retreat, French forces experienced cold, hunger, and attacks by Russian peasants and cossacks. Moreover, Russian troops prevented the French from taking a new road as they moved west, forcing them to leave by the same road they had entered, through land that was stripped and devastated. In the end, only about 30,000 of Napoleon’s troops made it to the Russian border. Napoleon, traveling in disguise, reached Paris on December 18. The campaign had been a failure and was the beginning of the end of Napoleon’s unbeatable war machine. Adolph Northern’s painting, Napoleon ’ s Retreat from Moscow, commemorates the Russian disaster.
   See also <>; <>.
    Caulaincourt, Armand Augustin Louis. With Napoleon in Russia: The Memoirs of General de Caulaincourt, Duke of Vincence. From the original memoirs as edited by Jean Hanoteau. Edited by George Libaire. New York: W. Morrow and Company, 1935;
    McConnell, Allen. Tsar Alexander I. New York: Crowell, 1970;
    Riehn, Richard K. Napoleon ’ s Russian Campaign. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990;
    Walter, Jakob. The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier. Edited and with an Introduction by Marc Raeff. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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