Napoleon "The Russian Conflict"

Napoleon was one of the greatest military leaders of all time. By 1812 Napoleon had expanded

the territory of France all over Europe including Spain, Italy, Holland, and Switzerland. The countries that

Napoleon did not directly control, he was usually allied with. The turning point of Napoleon's career also

came in 1812 when war broke out between France and Russia because of Alexander I's refusal to enforce

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Even the French nation could not provide all the manpower and supplies needed to carry out the

Emperor's grandiose plan for subduing Russia. Throughout 1811, he worked to mobilize the entire

continent against Russia. He not only levied the vassal kingdoms in Spain, Italy, and Germany but also

summoned Austria and Prussia to furnish their share of men and goods. Altogether, Napoleon could count

on nearly 700,000 men of 20 nationalities of whom more than 600,000 crossed the border. Grown far

beyond its original intended size, the army was difficult to assemble and hard to feed. Between Tilsit and

Moscow, there lay over 600 miles of hostile barren countryside. Because of lack of supplies and the

difficulty to feed the large army, Napoleon's plan was simple: bring about a battle, defeat the Russian

army, and dictate a settlement. Apparently neither he nor his soldiers, who cheerfully began crossing the

Nieman River, thought beyond the immediate goal.

Already 300 miles into Russia, Napoleon had not yet found a way to exploit his advantage. In the

Emperor's programming the resources necessary to achieve his objective, he had anticipated fighting a

battle within a month after crossing the Nieman. Toward the end of that month Napoleon began to realize

that events were disproving the validity of his estimates. Dying horses littered the roads and the advanced

guard found little forage as Russians everywhere abandoned their homes. Napoleon knew that he needed to

fight. At Smolensk, he set up for a battle and waited but the Russians, afraid of a trap steadily withdrew

their troops from Smolensk and continued to retreat deeper into Russia.

The only major battle in the Russian campaign proved that something was definitely lacking in

Napoleon's judgment. Borodino was a battle of legendary proportions. Before the battle Napoleon

proclaimed, "Soldiers, here is the battle you have so long desired!" However, the fight was inconclusive.

At its end, Napoleon found himself the possessor, not of a victory, but of a barren hillside and an

increasingly compelling commitment to advance further into the east. Well into the battle, the French had

almost cracked the left side of the Russian Army. Several French generals had requested that Napoleon

would commit the guard infantry into battle. This would create the final blow and insure the Russian defeat.

After 14 hours of intense combat, the fighting died out at nightfall, and Mikhail Illarionovich Kutusov, the

Russian general, gratefully began to retreat his troops. The guard infantry had remained unused. After the

Battle of Borodino, in which losses on both sides totaled !

over 70,000 men, Napoleon had 100,000 effectives remaining, while Kutusov probably had no more than

55,000. Both sides claimed a victory, whereas actually, both sides had lost. While the Russian army filed

disconsolately toward Moscow, the Emperor of the French rationalized his indecision at Borodino by

contenting himself with the capture of the city.

On September 14, Napoleon rode into Moscow at the head of a fraction of the Empire's military

strength. Meanwhile, Napoleon's opponent had made a decision that was to shape the remainder of the

campaign. Kutusov made up his mind not to fight another battle in defense of Moscow. Kutusov ordered

the city's population out into the countryside, released all inmates from the city jails, and destroyed the city

firefighting equipment. Napoleon and his army of 100,000 arrived only to find a handful of the original

inhabitants and several hundred criminals and lunatics freely roaming and plundering the streets. That

night, fires sprang up all over the city. Fire swept through the city for several days and by morning it was

apparent that most of the city had been consumed by the flames. Left with no choice, Napoleon sent peace

proposals to Alexander, but Alexander refused to even discuss the concept of peace while the French

remained on Russian