Russian Eyewitness Accounts of the Campaign of 1812
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Firstly, he blocked Napoleon from the economically unharmed southern provinces of the Russian Empire including the strategically important weapons plant in Tula. Secondly, he kept under threat the reserves and supply lines of the Grand Army stretching way back to Smolensk. And, the most important aim of all, in this way he hoped to force the enemy out of Moscow. The plan succeeded.
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Following a failed attempt to enter into peace talks and the Battle of Tarutino, in which the French advanced guard was defeated, Napoleon had to abandon preparations for a march on St. Petersburg and to move towards the Russian army. In the meantime, Kutuzov pushed ahead with his own plan. After the battle of Maloyaroslavets, he forced the French army to retreat along the Old Smolensk road through a war-ravaged area.
Together with great supply problems, this put the enemy in a very precarious position. Moreover, when leaving the city, Napoleon narrowly escaped. He was on the verge of being captured by the Cossacks, regarded in the Grand Army as a formidable force. According to the available documents during the campaign the Cossacks took 50, to 70, prisoners. The chieftain of the Don Cossacks, Matvey Platov, even promised his daughter would marry the one who would capture the French Emperor.
French First hand Accounts
The tide of the campaign had turned, with Kutuzov getting the strategic upper hand. The Russian army launched a counter-offensive. Previously, the Grand Army had been in pursuit of a grand battle, now it had to defend itself and beat a hasty retreat. The French forces were exposed to blows from all sides.
French First hand Accounts
Cossack regiments were on their heels, guerilla detachments were dealing flank blows and the advanced guard was exposed to strikes by peasant militias. The French were losing battle after battle. Alongside the never-ending skirmishes with the pursuers, Napoleon had another adversary to contend with—cold weather.
The problem began to be felt in Vyazma and took a turn for the worse after the French army had to flee Smolensk so as to avoid being encircled. Recollections of the time suggest the frosts were not very harsh. Moreover, in French troops happened to fight under far worse weather conditions, for instance in a blizzard during the Battle of Preussisch-Eylau in Prussia.
So was its influence on the ending of the French campaign in November very significant? The history of weather watching, too, confirms that when the French army was on the retreat, the air temperatures were not critically low—on the Minard map they are considerably overstated. The troops that before November had been engaged in the north were not as exhausted as those who had reached Moscow, so the November frosts in no way affected their combat potential.
Lack of coordination among Russian forces allowed him to buy time to arrange for crossing the Berezina and avoid the complete loss of his army. According to various sources, the main force of about 19, men managed to cross the river in the area of Studenka. Those who remained suffered a dreadful fate. Most of them would soon be taken prisoner or drown while trying to cross the river. The surviving remains of what just recently was the Grand Army headed for Vilno towards the border.
When Kutuzov was faced with a stark dilemma, he made his choice in favor of the army, and not the city, but Napoleon set his priorities quite differently. On December 3, while staying in Molodechno, he got word of an attempted government coup in Paris, staged by General Malet. At on December 5, during a stopover in Smorgon, Napoleon delegated the command of the remaining army to King Joachim Murat of Naples, as the person having the highest title. The Emperor ordered Murat to take the troops to Vilno and stop there for the winter.
At Napoleon left Smorgon under the name of Duke of Vicenza. He crossed the border on December 7 and by the midnight of December 18, he arrived in the capital of France. As a politician he had no choice. As a military commander, he lost all respect in the eyes of his own soldiers. In the area of Kovno currently Kaunas only small group of participants in the Russian campaign crossed the Neman. The war had changed many beyond recognition. Some modern historians argue that the price was still higher—of the , men who participated in the campaign no more than 80, crossed the Neman back.
Another ,ooo were taken prisoner. Cesare de Laugier, a lieutenant with the corps under the Vice-King of Italy.
The sand got into our eyes causing agonizing pain. This can be attributed both to the emergence of modern nationalism and to the historical relationship between France and Poland going back to the early-eighteenth century. German and Italian nationalism appealed to a minority. The Napoleonic regime limited itself to fostering nationalism through propaganda and — more successfully — through the unifying national experience of military service.
Indoctrination of conscripts and the daily life of soldiers during their time in the army remained the primary practical means of fostering nationalism.
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This was somewhat successful in the kingdom of Italy, but in the German states of the Rheinbund, the princes retained control over their states and could limit Napoleonic influence. Much is made of the extension of French cultural influence into conquered Europe, but the full influence of Napoleonic rule was felt only in those regions of Europe incorporated directly into the French Empire.
The satellite states ruled by Napoleon's family, and his allies and client states adopted the Code Napoleon and other elements of French Revolutionary traditions only to the extent that their societies and political systems could bear. The German princes managed to limit the degree of French constitutional and legal influence throughout the period. In some cases, these states were already in the process of significant reforms prior to the arrival of the French. In general, however, Napoleon limited his interference in internal affairs as long as troops for his armies were forthcoming.
Perhaps the most practical impact of French hegemony can be found in the influence on military institutions, organization and tactics. Napoleon's satellite states and allies gradually adapted the French system. They reduced terms of military service, established French-style divisions and brigades, and the tactics that brought Napoleon's armies success on the battlefield. Only French satellite states, such as the kingdoms of Italy, Westphalia , Holland and Naples, adopted the French conscription system.
Napoleon's allies and clients modified their recruitment systems, but did not fully accept the French conscription model, as it had implications for their social and political systems.
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Austria, Prussia and Russia similarly introduced aspects of the French military system into their own, but rejected a complete overhaul on the French model. Of greater significance for the forging of a European identity was the economic impact of Napoleonic rule. Curiously, recent research indicates that although the Continental System, which prohibited the importation and exportation of goods to and from Britain, was very detrimental for merchant houses in port cities on the European continent, these trading houses moved their centers of operation to take advantage of the increasing flow of goods within the Grand Empire.
An intra-European trade began to take root and this certainly provided for greater international trade, even if it no longer took the form of overseas commerce. The Treaty of Tilsit established a formal political alliance between Russia and France. European states outside of this continental association were limited to Britain, Portugal , Sweden and the Ottoman Empire. Napoleon's distrust of his Spanish allies led to their overthrow in the spring of Napoleon replaced the Spanish Bourbons with his older brother Joseph — The invasion of Spain initiated a six-year war that drained Napoleon of vital manpower resources.
It provided Britain with a new continental ally and a base of operations to strike at France. The war in Spain — witnessed the widespread use of guerrilla warfare against French forces in tandem with conventional Anglo-Portuguese and Spanish armies. This new alliance was a formal military agreement between the powers.
Certainly, the anti-clerical policies of Revolutionary France had served to rally the Spanish population against the French invasion in , but Napoleon was not anti-clerical and had made amends with the papacy in Recent arguments place the guerilla war in a traditional context, with soldiers rather than peasants forming the majority of Spanish guerilla forces.
Popular unrest and guerilla warfare did not first appear in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars, but in Naples in and again after French conquest in After the French returned in , a revolt in Calabria led to an insurgency that lasted five years. In , Andreas Hofer — led a popular revolt in the Tyrol, not against French, but Bavarian rule. Also in , there were significant attempts in Germany to raise popular revolt against French domination.
All but the Spanish insurgency failed. Napoleon's focus on Spain provided Austria with the opportunity to rearm and strike.