The Franco-Russian War, 1812-1813

A.) Russian-French Relations up to 1812

In 1794/95 Czarina Catharina pressed for the final Partition of Poland in order to eliminate the French disease (the ongoing reform of the Polish state, associated with the French Revolution). In 1807, Napoleon fought a coalition, which included Russia. The Russian army suffered heavy losses at the BATTLES OF AUSTERLITZ and FRIEDLAND. Soon afterward, Czar Alexander and Napoleon met in Tilsit, where they signed the PEACE OF TILSIT. Russia and France had few conflicting interests; Napoleon's major demand from the Czar was that Russia should join the CONTINENTAL BLOCKADE dirercted against England.

B.) The Invasion of 1812

However, Russia's commitment to the continental blockade was a mere lip-service. In 1812. Napoleon decided to invade Russia. At the head of the GRANDE ARMEE (over 600.000 men, mostly Germans pressed into service) he crossed into Russia in June 1812. The strategy of Russian general KUTUSOV was to refuse an open battle - in which Napoleon was regarded superior - and instead to retreat, leaving nothing behind that might be of use (SCORCHED EARTH POLICY) and to constantly harass the enemy. Napoleon emerged victorious from the BATTLES OF SMOLENSK and BORODINO (which Kutusov had, reluctantly, to fight to save face) and entered Moscow in September, with only 110.000 of his soldiers remaining (the huge number of losses includes many deserters). However, many Moscovites had left the city, and Russia did not surrender. Instead, the Russians set their ancient capital afire again and again.
After weeks of waiting, Napoleon realized that Russia would not surrender and he and his army would starve to death during the coming winter. So he decided to retreat. Kutusov had the Russian army shadow the French and constantly harass them. When Napoleon reached the BEREZINA river, only 30.000 were left. While the remnant of the Grande Armee was crossing the icy river, Russian cannons opened fire. The bridge was destroyed, and so was the Grande Armee. Napoleon, leaving his army behind, fled on a sled. Only 5.000 of his soldiers reached Poland in December.

C.) The War, 1813

Russian success quickly lead to the establishment of a new coalition. Prussia and Austria switched sides, Sweden was allied with Russia already. The allies placed their troops under BERNADOTTE's command; the future King of Sweden defeated Napoleon in the BATTLE OF LEIPZIG. Russia was one of, and actually the first of the victorious powers, and would play a significant role in the establishment of the Post-Napoleonic order. The allies proceeded to discuss the post-Napoleonic European order at the VIENNA CONGRESS (1813-1815).

Battle of Borodino 1812, from Xenophon
Timeline French invasion of Russia 1812, posted by John Sloan (Xenophon)
Napoleon in Russia, by Kathy Scott, chronological detailed description of events
REFERENCE Penguin Atlas of World History Vol.2, by Hermann Kinder and Werner Hilgemann, trsl. from the German (1966) 1978, pp.34-35

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 19th 2004

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