Russia In Napoleonic Wars

Apr 03, 2015


Napoleon’s failed attempt to invade Russia was the turning point in all the Napoleonic Wars. Until then he had been invincible. The cold Russian winter and long distances were a decisive factor in Napoleon’s defeat.

“Napoleon in Burning Moscow” by Albrecht Adam (1841)

By 1800, the popular French Revolution had transformed into a dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was fulfilling his dream of uniting the whole Europe under French rule.

Austria (1805) and Prussia (1806) were defeated and forced to join Napoleon’s continental blockade against Great Britain.

Russia participated in several coalitions against Napoleon. Major campaigns in Italy and Switzerland were led by Alexander Suvorov.

Under Alexander I, Russia lost two battles to Napoleon Austerlitz (1805) and Jena-Auerstedt (1806). Alexander I agreed to make a deal with Napoleon at Tilsit (1807). He immediately chose not to keep it.

French Invasion of Russia
Napoleon launched an attack on Russia in 1812 as he took his Grande Armee of 500,000 men across the Russian border. That was the biggest army of all time. The Russian war minister Barclay de Tolly chose the tactics of scorched earth. Napoleon was looking for a decisive battle but found nothing ahead but burned ground. The two armies led by Napoleon and Mikhail Kutuzov finally met near Borodino (1812). 75,000 men died and both sides claimed victory.

Alexander I continued retreating and when Napoleon finally reached Moscow, he found that Russians had set fire to it. Napoleon realized, it was pointless to move forward and turned around.

It was an extremely cold winter. Napoleon’s army had little resources left. Disease, hunger and cold disintegrated the army into small groups of marauders. Only 25,000 men made it back home.

Napoleon’s defeat
The Battle of Leipzig (1813) was the final blow to Napoleon’s new army. The coalition won and Alexander was greeted as the “Liberator of Europe” when the united troops of Russia, Austria and Prussia entered Paris in 1814.

The Congress of Vienna (1814-15) ratified the new political order. Napoleon managed to get himself together for one last time and was decisively beaten at Waterloo (1815).

Alexander Suvorov