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Size of army and battle in Napoleon's invasion of Russia

Size of army and battle in Napoleon's invasion of Russia



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I am finding conflicting information when searching online for 1) The size of Napoleon's army when he invaded Russia and 2) The number of casualties in the Battle of Borodino. There are many books on this topic, but not in my library. I would really appreciate if someone could suggest a reliable source and would be delighted if they could mention page numbers.


A good summary is provided by Minard's chart of 1869; see Analyzing Minard's Visualization Of Napoleon's 1812 March for an analysis.

If you click on the graphic you find 422,000 is the starting size, but this is in Lithuania. It is 400,000 at Vilnius, but 60,000 troops are removed on the upper branch.


Causes of Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia

Although most of Western and Central European states were under Napoleon’s control—either directly or indirectly through various protectorates, alliances, or under treaties favorable for France—Napoleon had embroiled his armies in the costly Peninsular War (1807/8-1814) in Spain and Portugal. France’s economy, army morale, and political support at home noticeably declined. Most importantly, Napoleon himself was not in the same physical and mental state. He was overweight and increasingly prone to various maladies.

The Treaty of Schönbrunn, which ended the 1809 war between Austria and France, had a clause removing Western Galicia from Austria and annexing it to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Russia saw the territory as a potential launching-point for another country to invade and thus developed a plan of offensive war in 1811, assuming a Russian assault on Warsaw and Danzig. Furthermore, Tsar Alexander found Russia in an economic bind as his country had little in the way of manufacturing yet was rich in raw materials, depending heavily on Napoleon’s Continental System for both money and manufactured goods. Russia’s withdrawal from the system was a further incentive for Napoleon to start the campaign.

Napoleon ignored repeated advice against an invasion of the Russian heartland and prepared for an offensive campaign. The invasion commenced in June 1812. In an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, Napoleon termed this war the Second Polish War (Napoleon’s “First Polish War” was in fact the War of the Fourth Coalition, 1806-08, one of declared goals of which was the resurrection of the Polish state on territories of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). Polish patriots wanted the Russian part of Poland to be joined with the Duchy of Warsaw and independent Poland reestablished. These demands were rejected by Napoleon, who stated he promised Austria, one of powers that had partitioned Poland at the end of the 18th century, that this would not happen.


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Instead of giving battle, the Russians retreated, destroying everything that could be of use to the French. Napoleon had always lived off the land in his campaigns in order to forestall a supply problem. Now it was impossible. When he reached Moscow in September he found it burning. There was nothing there which could feed and house his troops for the winter.so he was forced to turn back toward home just as winter was setting in. His Grand Army ran out of supplies and soldiers died of disease and and the bitter cold of the Russian winter. They were clad only in summer uniforms. Russian troops continually attacked them as they trudged home. Only 40,000 survived the march.

At this point, the anti-Napoleonic forces gathered together. Over the course of 1813 and early 1814, Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Russia, as well as a host of other small countries, drove Napoleon's forces back to France. This was the turning point.

Part of Napoleon: Hero or Tyrant? a HistoryWiz Exhibit

copyright HIstoryWiz 1999-2008

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A COMMON SOLDIER`S GRIM ACCOUNT OF NAPOLEON`S INVASION OF RUSSIA

In the summer of 1932, Professor Frank E. Melvin was teaching a course in 19th Century history at the University of Kansas. One day a student gave him an exciting bit of information: a farmer in nearby Lecompton, Kansas, had in his possession a diary written by his grandfather, a German soldier who had been drafted into Napoleon`s army and who had survived the emperor`s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Melvin approached the farmer, Frank Walter, who produced the document.

We can imagine Melvin`s astonishment at finding such a treasure in Kansas, literally around the world from the scene of the action. He was, of course, eager to have the diary authenticated, and because the owner had no objection, he turned it over to Professor Otto Springer, who was a native, like the diary`s author, of the German state of Wurttemberg. As a Swabian, Springer was able to read-or even decipher-the document, and in 1938 it was published in The Bulletin of the University of Kansas. Only now has it been put into commercial book form.

Jakob Walter (1778-1864) was probably in his 30s or 40s when he made this contribution to our knowledge of the Napoleonic campaigns- the only extant account of the 1812 campaign written by a common soldier rather than an officer. There is reason for the scarcity of eyewitness accounts: of the 600,000 Frenchmen, Germans, and Poles who made up Naploeon`s Grand Armee, only an estimated 25,000 men made it back home from the debacle.

The historic details of the campaign of 1812 are hazy to most modern readers, but the editor, Professor Marc Raeff, has included a fine

introduction which provides the historical backdrop of the 1812 campaign as well as an evaluation of Walter`s diary itself.

Of special interest, Raeff points out, is Jakob Walter`s German nationality. He was one of the many Germans caught up in the Napoleonic campaigns. Napoleon would have preferred to keep his army French, as his earlier ones had been, but he had run out of French manpower, and as early as 1806 he had established the ''Confederation of the Rhine,'' reducing the two states of Wurttemberg and Westphalia to the status of vassals of France, subject to his periodic manpower drafts. Walter, as a German, had nothing to gain from service with Napoleon, no pride in the glory of France, nor hope for Polish freedom from Russia. The German conscriptee`s sole interest was to survive in as comfortable a manner as possible. Thus, one can presume that Walter viewed developments with some detachment.

Napoleon`s famous remark that ''an army marches on its stomach'' would imply that his armies were well fed and well cared for. Actually, Napoleon`s supply requirements for artillery and ammunition so stretched his capabilities that soldiers (especially Germans) were left largely on their own to find both food and shelter. Walter`s account, therefore, is dominated throughout by the overriding need to find food.

Even while still in Poland, preparing to cross the Russian border in June 1812, many of Napoleon`s troops were already starving. At one time, Walter reports that ''several men had already shot themselves because of hardship:

one officer had cut his throat on the very same day.'' Naturally, the situation degenerated with time.

The battles of Borodino and Smolensk, fought on the 500-mile advance between Poland and Moscow, were costly to Napoleon, not only because of heavy troop losses but also because his soldiers earned the undying hatred of the Russian peasants. To avoid leaving a ''robber corps'' behind, they were marched to the east by Napoleon`s men, who summarily executed those who fell behind with shots in the head. (Hitler would make the same mistake 130 years later.)

Once Napoleon had occupied Moscow, in September 1812, his men actually enjoyed the respite. ''Each soldier was now citizen, merchant, innkeeper and baker,'' Walter reports. ''Everyone tried to dress as much as possible with silks and materials of all colors. Things to eat were not wanting either.''

But when the Russian Emperor Alexander I refused to make a peace treaty with the invader, Napoleon realized the desperate nature of his situation and only then did he begin his retreat, in late October 1812.

Walter`s descriptions of the horrors of the retreat are vivid and gruesome. The ''alliance'' disintegrated Germans, French and Poles began giving vent to the mutual resentment that previously had been suppressed by the discipline of the Grand Armee. But hunger superseded even national loyalities. At one point Walter, held up by a group of Frenchmen, was rescued by a group of Germans-who then robbed him themselves.

Organization and military rank disappeared in the face of hunger. ''I had a little piece of meat which I cut off next to the ears from a dog`s pelt with the whole head on it. Just to give the water flavor and to warm our stomachs, we boiled the two together.''

But aside from the harrowing descriptions of human degradation, this book is also a story of human fortitude. Good fortune was the main reason Jakob Walter was among the 8 percent who finally reached home, but the fact that he never despaired also played a role. At the times when he expected to die, his deep religious conviction gave him serenity. His love for his family gave him a motivation to survive.

On reaching home, Walter encountered disdain rather than welcome. He and his comrades were regarded as ''the Russians,'' and Walter, quarantined with a fever, felt like a leper. But his family never wavered in their devotion, and Walter recovered from his illness and survived to an old age.

This book has a place in any library on Napoleon. It reminds us that the troops Napoleon drove so mercilessly were actually more victims than victors- a side of Napoleon that should not be forgotten.


MISC BRIT OVERSEAS

A - Miscellaneous British OB's in Europe

British Invasion of Hedic and Houat, 11 August 1795
British Garrison of Miorca, 12 May 1800
Proposed British Expedition to Hanover, 16 October 1805
British Expeditionary Forces to Italy, Landed in Naples
20 November 1805
2nd British Division on the Weser, 1 January 1806
Embarked Force of General Cathcart, 15 February 1806
British Forces Under General Stuart In Italy (Maida)
25 June – 6 July 1806
British Reinforcements to Sicily, December 1806
British forces under Fraser Mackenzie, Embarked 21 February 1807
KGL Arriving at Rugen, 8 July 1807
British Forces in the Fleet of Admiral Gambier, Destined for Denmark, 26 July 1807
British Invasion Force of Denmark, 16 August 1807
British Forces Embarked from Sicily, 1 December 1807
British Expeditionary Force to the Scheldt, 28 July 1809
British Forces Embarked in Milazzo, 11 June 1809
Leading Wave at Landing, British Expeditionary Force to the Scheldt, 29 July 1809
Second Wave at Landing, British Expeditionary Force to the Scheldt, 29 July 1809
New Organization of British Army, Scheldt Expedition, 1 August 1809
British Expeditionary Force to the Scheldt, 28 July 1809
British Invasion Force of Zante and Cephallonia
23 September 1809
British Forces Departing Zante under General Oswald, 21 March 1809


Michael Sandberg's Data Visualization Blog

Charles Minard’s Flow Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812

[Click on map to see full size version]

Minard’s chart shows six types of information : geography, time, temperature, the course and direction of the army’s movement, and the number of troops remaining. The widths of the gold (outward) and black (returning) paths represent the size of the force, one millimetre to 10,000 men. Geographical features and major battles are marked and named, and plummeting temperatures on the return journey are shown along the bottom.

The chart tells the dreadful story with painful clarity: in 1812, the Grand Army set out from Poland with a force of 422,000 only 100,000 reached Moscow and only 10,000 returned. The detail and understatement with which such horrifying loss is represented combine to bring a lump to the throat. As men tried, and mostly failed, to cross the Bérézina river under heavy attack, the width of the black line halves: another 20,000 or so gone. The French now use the expression “C’est la Bérézina” to describe a total disaster.

In 1871, the year after Minard died, his obituarist cited particularly his graphical innovations: “For the dry and complicated columns of statistical data, of which the analysis and the discussion always require a great sustained mental effort, he had substituted images mathematically proportioned, that the first glance takes in and knows without fatigue, and which manifest immediately the natural consequences or the comparisons unforeseen.” The chart shown here is singled out for special mention: it “inspires bitter reflections on the cost to humanity of the madnesses of conquerors and the merciless thirst of military glory”.

What does the map show us [1]

  • Forces visual comparisons (the upper lighter band showing the large army going to Moscow vs. the narrow dark band showing the small army returning).
  • Shows causality (the temperature chart at the bottom).
  • Captures multivariate complexity (size of army, location, direction, temperature, and time).
  • Integrates text and graphic into a coherent whole.
  • Illustrate high quality content (complete and accurate data, presented to support Minard’s argument against war).
  • Place comparisons adjacent to each other, not sequentially (people forget if they have to go from page to page ).
  • Use the smallest effective differences (i.e., avoid bold colors, heavy lines, distracting labels and scales).

Let’s look at the map in detail

Since Minard’s map is in French, I have provided an Englsh language version for us to use as we discusss the flow of Napoleon’s march in detail. [2]

Crossing the Niemen River – So It Begins

As Napoleon concentrated his enormous coalition army in preparation for the invasion of Russia, three Russian armies were positioned to guard the western frontier: the 1st Western Army, under Mikhail Barclay de Tolly, the 2nd Western Army, under Prince Pyotr Bagration, and the 3rd Western Army, under Alexander Tormasov. In June 1812, the 1st Western Army was stationed along the frontier with East Prussia and the Duchy of Warsaw. The 2nd was placed further south in modern Belarus. The 3rd stood yet further south, but still in Belarus. The overall commander of these three armies was Alexander himself, who was installed in Barclay de Tolly’s headquarters near Vilna.

On 23 June, the Prussian major (and later military theorist) Karl von Clausewitz, who had recently entered Alexander’s service, reached the Drissa camp (northwest of Polotsk on the Dvina, near modern Verkhniadzvinsk in Belarus) to inspect the site and report on the progress being made on its defensive works and fortifications. He remained unconvinced of its defensive qualities and said so to Alexander on 28 June. Despite the fact that the camp had appeared central to Russian strategy pre-invasion, it would prove of little worth once the Russian forces had withdrawn from the western frontier.

News of the Grande Armée’s advance guard crossing the Niemen (24 June, 1812) reached Alexander and Barclay de Tolly that same day, late in the evening. The order to withdraw to the Drissa camp was issued shortly afterwards, and Barclay’s units fell back.

Between 26 and 27 June, the order to retreat back from borders spread to each of the Russian corps commanders. Although most of the 1st Western Army’s withdrawal was relatively untroubled, General Dokhturov’s 6th corps, stationed between Lida and Grodno, was almost cut off by the Grande Armée’s crossing of the Niemen and Davout’s troops making for Minsk. Only by force marching did the 6th corps avoid the advancing French troops and reach Drissa unmolested. It was also on 26 June that Alexander dispatched a letter proposing talks with Napoleon, provided that the French emperor retired back over the border. The messenger was held up by Davout and only succeeded in reaching Berthier and Napoleon at the end of the month. The evacuation of Vilna began late on 26 June: by the time Napoleon received Alexander’s messenger and letter, Vilna had been occupied by the Grande Armée. Barclay de Tolly left the city early on 28 June, having destroyed the remaining depots as well as the bridge across the Dvina. Napoleon’s advance troops arrived about an hour later.

Next: The March Continues

[1] Dr. Daniel Churchill, MITE6323 – Interactivity, Visualization, Emerging Technologies and Paradigms, The University of Hong Kong, February, 2007.


A Solution

This could have been avoided by adding another element or metal, known as alloying, with small amounts of electropositive metals or semimetals soluble in tin’s solid-phase like Antimony or Bismuth, which would have prevented the crumbling of the soldiers’ buttons and eventually prevented many deaths by the Russian winter.

However, the French underestimated the knowledge of Chemistry!

Interestingly, the disintegration of something as small as a tin button led to the downfall of one of the greatest armies throughout history as the reputation of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte suffered severely, and the French supremacy in Europe weakened dramatically.

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The road to Moscow

A little known fact about the campaign is that Napoleon’s army actually lost more men on the way to Moscow than on the way back. The heat, disease, battle and desertion meant that by the time the Russian capital was seen on the horizon he had lost half his men. Nevertheless, what was important to the Corsican General was that he had reached the city.

Battles at Smolensk and Borodino along the way had been costly and hard-fought, but nothing Tsar Alexander had done had been able to halt the Imperial juggernaut in its tracks – though he had managed to extricate most of the Russian army intact from the fighting.

In September the exhausted and bloodied Grand Armée reached Moscow with its promise of food and shelter, but it was not to be. So determined were the Russians to resist the invader that they burned their own old and beautiful capital in order to deny its uses to the French. Camped in a burned and empty shell, Napoleon dithered about whether to remain over the bitter winter or claim victory and march home.

He was mindful of earlier campaigns into Russia – such as that of Charles XII of Sweden a century earlier – and made the fateful decision to return to friendly territory rather than face the snows without adequate shelter.


In Russia, 200-Year-Old Battle A Day To Remember

Members of historical clubs, dressed as Russian cavalry, advance during the 2010 re-enactment of the 1812 battle between Napoleon's army and Russian troops in Borodino.

Two hundred years ago this week, Napoleon Bonaparte fought a battle in Russia that may have begun his undoing. He led his Grand Army against the Imperial Russian Army near a village called Borodino, about 70 miles from Moscow.

It was the single bloodiest day of the Napoleonic Wars, and it's remembered by Russians as a symbol of national courage. An army of re-enactors relived that Sunday.

There's still some historical dispute about who won the battle of Borodino, but most agree that it was a tactical victory for Napoleon since he forced the Russian army to retreat. Historian Oleg Sokolov says the real significance of the battle came later.

"The importance of Borodino . is by literature, by history, by poetry," he says. "It's not so important strategically."

Mikhail Lermontov wrote a poem about Borodino that's read by every Russian schoolchild, and Tolstoy made the battle the center of War and Peace.

Sokolov has spent much of his career making the battle of Borodino come alive. He began as a teenager, with a few friends, making period uniforms and doing small re-enactments that led to the epic performance that the event has become today.

Now, at 56, he usually represents one of Napoleon's generals, in full regalia, mounted on a prancing horse.

Re-enactor Viktor Penzas of Belarus represents a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army. He says the officers of the time were frequent casualties, because they were expected to lead their troops from the front. Corey Flintoff/NPR hide caption

Re-enactor Viktor Penzas of Belarus represents a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army. He says the officers of the time were frequent casualties, because they were expected to lead their troops from the front.

A Russian hussar races past the artillery as the battle is about to begin. Corey Flintoff/NPR hide caption

A Russian hussar races past the artillery as the battle is about to begin.

During the event, there are several thousand people on the battlefield: lines of infantry, artillery, grenadiers, hussars in plumed bearskin hats and heavy dragoons with gleaming brass helmets.

Smoke and flame erupt from the batteries of cannon, as cavalry sweeps across the battlefield amid the crackle of musket fire. The horsemanship is worthy of real cavalry, and when the riders clash with their sabers, you can see that some of the more agile ones are women.

Among the foot soldiers, 61-year-old Viktor Penzas is representing a lieutenant colonel, a tempting target for the enemy in his plumed cocked hat. Russian officers showed a special heroism, he says.

"In those days, officers led from the front, and they took a lot of casualties," Penzas says.

The French and their allies were no less brave.

Bernhardt Schaveck, from Germany, is representing a soldier in Napoleon's Imperial Guard. Napoleon held his Imperial Guard in reserve during the battle and didn't use them.

Some historians say that if he had deployed them, he might have been able to destroy the Russian Army instead of just forcing it to retreat.

As it was, the French suffered at least 30,000 dead and wounded in that single day. The Russian casualties were around 45,000.

Schaveck is the piper for his regiment, and he plays the advance march of the French army, a deceptively cheery tune, given what happened next. He thinks the Russians ultimately won at Borodino.

Napoleon moved on to occupy Moscow, much of which was burned by the retreating Russians. His army was depleted, and his supply lines were under constant attack, so he was forced into a disastrous retreat in October with the approach of winter.

The Grand Army he led to Russia was effectively destroyed.

There are no bodies on the field when the re-enactors finish their battle, but there are a lot of spectators who know something more about the awful tumult that took place here.


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