Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow

During the nineteenth century, Europe witnessed a lot of activities that influenced the manner in which various countries related to each other. Imperialism was one of the major events that occurred in Europe during this time. It was majorly triggered by industrialization and other political reasons.

In this process, most of the European powers aimed at extending their hegemony to other territories especially to the small nations that had weak economies and poor military installations. For example, Britain and France were among the strongest countries in Europe in the nineteenth century and they always conquered small territories in order to fulfill their political and economic interests.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

Imperialism was characterized by wars of conquests which had far reaching effects. “For a very long time, France dominated the land power while Britain was leading in the sea power” (Lieven 234).

The war events had devastating effects on people. Hence, many individuals got interested in analyzing the nature of war and how it impacted on the society. The manner in which people perceived war also varied. For example, some people glorified it while others detested it.

Artists were among the people who tried to analyze the wars. Adolf Northern was a prominent German painter in the nineteenth. “He was born in Munden, Hannover and was a pupil of Dusseldorf Painting Academy” (Royal Academy of Fine Art of San Fernando 12).

Most of his paintings focused on battle scenes, especially the events that occurred during Napoleonic Wars. “Some of his great works included the Prussian Attack and Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow which depicts the failure of the 1812 invasion of Russia by Napoleon” (Royal Academy of Fine Art of San Fernando 17).

“By 1812 Napoleon had conquered the whole of continental Europe – from southern Italy to the Baltic and from Portugal to Poland” (Connelly 345). The French attack on Russia in1812 is also popularly referred to as the 1812 Patriotic War. This war had a lot of implications on the Napoleonic conflicts.

The war affected the European politics and it also seriously weakened the Hegemony of France in Europe. Napoleon who for a very long time had remained a military genius was seriously shaken by the war. Prussia and Austria which had been France allies also switched camps and this led to the Sixth Coalition War.

The war started in 1812 when River Neman was crossed by Napoleon’s forces. Napoleon’s main motive was to avert the possible invasion of Poland by Russia. “Napoleon named the campaign, a Second Polish War; the Russian government proclaimed a Patriotic War” (Taylor 57).

Approximately five hundred thousand French soldiers invaded Western Russia and managed to win some minor engagements. In addition to this, they won a key battle in August at Smolensk. However, their success was short-lived and the Russian soldiers soon managed to contain some of the French soldiers. This prevented them from invading Saint Petersburg that served as the Russian capital.

The Russians mainly employed the scotch earth policy as one of the major tactics for attacking their opponents. They also attacked the French soldiers using light Cossack cavalry. However, their army kept on retreating for about three months. Of all the Napoleonic wars, this battle became the most dangerous and it was fought by approximately two hundred and fifty thousand troops. The war culminated to seventy thousand casualties.

“The French captured the battlefield, but failed to destroy the Russian army” (Zamoyski 453). Moreover, the Russians could regain their losses while the French did not mange to regain their stability. “The Russian retreat was significant for two reasons; firstly, the move was to the south and not to the east; secondly, the Russians immediately began operations that would continue to deplete the French forces” (Lieven 567).

Finally, Napoleon reached Moscow in the middle of September after another retreat by the Russian soldiers. However, by this time the city had been deserted by the Russians and even the prisoners had been freed in order to cause more trouble to the French army. “Alexander 1 refused to capitulate and the peace talks that Napoleon initiated failed” (Connelly 124). In October, Napoleon started retreating from Moscow after realizing that he could not win the war.

The French soldiers begun to suffer when they were blocked by the Russian troops from reaching Kaluga, where they could probably get food and forage supplies. “The replenished Russian soldiers barricaded the road networks and this forced Napoleon to retreat the same way he had come to Moscow, through the heavily ravaged areas a long the Smolensk road” (Zamoyski 78).

“Inadequate food supply and continuous use of guerrilla tactics by the Russian military caused a great catastrophe to the French soldiers” (Connelly 69).

The war had many far reaching effects both on the Russian and French soldiers. The invasion of Moscow by the French soldiers seriously impacted on its development activities. As the conflict ensued, many people fled their homes and businesses. This led to the disruption of economic activities that were conducted in Moscow.

Consequently, there was a serious economic decline. A lot of property was also destroyed during the battle. This led to a lot of suffering among the Russians whose properties and homes were destroyed. The French soldiers also damaged the roads and bridges as they retreated from Moscow. The destruction of infrastructure led to serious communication problems.

The French soldiers who had been using horses as their major mode of transportation were seriously affected by the massive death of their horses. Most of the horses died of starvation due to lack of grass, while others were killed during the war. Because of starvation, the French soldiers also fed on some of their horses.

The massive death of horses had serious implications on the French army because of the following reasons. First, they were forced to abandon most of their canons and wagons in Russia. The abandonment of their equipment led to serious logistical hitches since they could not get food and other important supplies. The stability of their military was also affected by the death of their horses which they used to transport soldiers and other military equipment.

There was an increase in the number of deserters and most of them were either imprisoned or killed by the Russian peasants. As a result of these challenges, the French army collapsed. “The crossing of river Berezina was the final French catastrophe of the war as two Russian armies inflicted horrendous casualties on the remnants of the Grande Armee as it struggled to escape across pontoon bridges” (Connelly 345). Many people died during the war and this led to a sharp decline in the population of French and Russian troops.

It is estimated that Napoleon had lost over half of his military by the time he was retreating back to his country. The winter weather also partly contributed to the high death toll of soldiers during the war. During winter, the cold weather affected the health of most of the soldiers and they contacted diseases because they could not cope with the extreme weather conditions.

The winter weather came at a time when the French soldiers were retreating and they were really exhausted after several months of fighting. Therefore, they could not survive in such conditions. During the retreat, the soldiers experienced serious starvation because they could not access food and clean water.

The outcome of this war had serious implications on Napoleon’s government which had remained dominant in Europe for along time. “This war was the reason the other coalition allies triumphed once and for all over Napoleon” (Royal Academy of Fine Art of San Fernando 128). His army was seriously destroyed and this lowered his self esteem.

Even his soldiers who were still remaining in Russia were also psychologically affected by the defeat and they could no longer cope with the battle in Russia. This war also brought to an end to the Napoleonic wars and he went for exile in Elba Island. The Patriotic Movement also gave the Russians a strong desire to fight for democracy in their country.

Consequently, there were many revolutions which ensued after the war. For example, there was the Decembrist revolt and it was later followed by the February Revolution that occurred in 1917. The defeat of Napoleon did not end his desire to remain dominant in Europe.

After one year, he managed to rebuild another big army which had approximately five hundred thousand troops. His new army was also barked by allied troops. He used his army to challenge Germany in another fierce battle. During the battle of Dresden, he was out numbered but he still managed to claim victory over Germany.

Napoleon managed to maintain his stability until he was finally defeated at the battle of Nations when he could not get enough soldiers to defend France against coalition forces. “Napoleon did still manage to inflict heavy losses and a series of minor military victories on the far larger Allied armies as they drove towards Paris, though they captured the city and forced him to abdicate in 1814” (Lieven 421).

The Russian campaign exposed Napoleon’s leadership weaknesses that led to the fall of his victory. It was noted that he made so many mistakes during the war and these mistakes largely contributed to his massive losses. For example, he refused to withdraw his military from France at the time he was attacking Russia. This meant that he had to fight at two fronts and this was not easy for him to manage because he wanted success on both sides.

The series of battles that France engaged in finally weakened its stability and hegemony in Europe. “Even though Napoleon was finally defeated, his invasion of Russia is listed among the most lethal military operations in world history” (Connelly 169). The works of Adolf Northern are still widely recognized in academic circles and they have always been used to analyze the war events of eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Works Cited

Connelly, Owen. Blundering to Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns. New York: Rowman & Littlefield , 2006.

Lieven, Dominic. Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace. New york: Wiley, 2010.

Royal Academy of Fine Art of San Fernando. The Disasters of War. New York: Dover Publishing, 1967.

Taylor, Don. The Women of Troy. New York: Methuen Drama, 2007.

Zamoyski, Adam. Moscow 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March. London: Harper Perennial, 2005.