Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Russian Czar Alexander I

The “Big Army” crossing the Beresina River; (September 14, 2009)


            The self appointed Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, had entered Moscow.  The Russian governor of Moscow burned his Capital three days after the French troops entered this “Saint City”.  Bonaparte lingered for an entire month in Moscow, hopelessly waiting for Czar Alexander to initiate negotiation.  Bonaparte finally ordered the retreat; he also ordered General Moreau to blast off the Kremlin. Bonaparte was forced to re-take the same route he used for coming to Moscow.  Bonaparte and “The Big Army” of 670,000, initially, were to re-witness the scene of carnage of the battle of Borodino; with a twist: the 80,000 victims were reduced to carcasses and the wolves and crows had done their cleaning job.

            Finally, after weeks of walking in the Russian winter weather half the army was dead from freezing, famine, drowning, and diseases. The guerilla Cossacks harassed this multinational army into lunacy; many soldiers were acting up crazy and irrationally. Then this big army had to cross the Beresina River.  The Russian General Kutuzoff appeased the British General Wilson saying: “It is in the swamps of Beresina that the meteorite will cool down.  So far, Bonaparte has no alternative but to follow the passage that I let him take; he is not even allowed to stop and rest.”

            The main bridges on the Beresina were destroyed.  The French engineering regiment headed by Eble tried to build all night long two makeshift bridges in a valley; they had to construct the bridges dipping in frozen water. The pontoon layers knew that they will not survive the day.

            The Russian army of 40,000 headed by General Tchitchakoff was waiting on the other side of the river. Miracle of miracle, in the morning the Russians had vacated their posts to allow Bonaparte safe passage and not be made prisoner. Bonaparte crossed at 2 pm. Then mayhem ensued.

            The entire army was pressing to cross on unstable bridges. The first wave of crossers drowned or was trampled due to the heavy push from the back.  Those trying to climb from the sides were carried off by the freezing powerful river. Women were holding their babies off water to be picked up before sinking in the river; not many babies found rescuers: everybody had no time to lose.

            What is it with women and babies following armies? It has been the custom since antiquity for whole families to follow their “noble warriors”, not those mercenaries or poor soldiers. Perhaps the noble warriors didn’t feel excited being deprived of their tasty dishes or the warmth of female bodies. But what with babies and kids? I never knew of a noble warrior caring of providing sympathy and affection to their kids. Obviously, women were of great help washing, cooking, cleaning after, gathering woods, tending the wounded, and rejuvenating the illusion of a peaceful period.  In this Russian campaign the civilians following the armies were caught between fires, crushed by horses and carriages, and killed when made prisoners.

            Then the Russian shells aimed amid this dense army increased the havoc. The bridge reserved for the artillery broke down. The masses surging from behind prohibited the column from backtracking. Everyone was precipitated in the river.  Thus, there was a surge to the only remaining bridge; men and materials were to be using this bridge. The carriages could not be stopped and entered in the masses and crashed into the compact assembled soldiers.  Nobody was hearing the moaning of the fallen and trampled.

            Bonaparte sent a brief message to the French Senate “During the 26 and 27 of November the army crossed.”   On December 5, 1812 Bonaparte abandoned his army and fled to Paris.

            If it was a military matter General Kutuzoff could have annihilated the French Big Army but he allowed it to cross the Russian borders.  There are two reasons for that decision: first, it was a highly political decision by Czar Alexander I.  Bonaparte was the master of Europe.  Without Bonaparte Europe would have sank into civil wars; the European leaders preferred Napoleon to stay for a short while so that he be targeted as the sole enemy and thus unite Europe until a political plan for restructuring the States is agreeable to all parties after the fall of Napoleon.  Second, it was a pragmatic decision.  The Russian army barely could afford to feed its soldiers.  It would have turned a horrific burden to caring for over 200,000 enemy soldiers who were enfeebled, sick, and crazy.  General Kutuzoff must have been extremely relieved to see the enemy has finally retreated behind the borders.

Napoleon enters Moscow; (September 10, 2009)


            Napoleon Bonaparte, the self appointed Emperor of France, gathered a large army “La Grande Armee”.  This army was over 680,000 soldiers strong, including 175,000 cavalry men.  The Big Army converged from many parts of Europe to Dresden; it included 270,000 French soldiers, 20,000 Italians, 80,000 from the Rhine Confederacy, 30,000 from Poland, 30,000 from the Austrian Empire, and 20,000 from Prussia.  The objective was to punish the Russian Czar Alexander I.  No one among the politicians and the Generals saw any cause for this war.  The Czar simply was the only independent monarch in the European continent not to obey promptly to the ducats of the Emperor.  Napoleon’s avowed reason for this war was that Alexander I did not sign on a tariff treaty that bind all the other monarchies in Continental Europe and thus was alienated from the continental system.

            Napoleon declared war unilaterally on June 22, 1812 at Wilkowiski proclaiming that second Polish war has started.  The army needed 3 days to cross the Niemen River to the Russian frontier; no enemy army was waiting to give battle to Bonaparte. In Witepsk he had a second thought of postponing the invasion to next year because he sensed that it was dangerous to remain in Russia during the coming winter season.  Then, as the Czar refused to reply to his letters or envoys for negotiation Bonaparte got pretty upset; he reasoned “Moscow, the Saint City with hundreds of churches and the remaining bastion of Christianity, is 20 days march for the army.  By the time the Czar calls up his recruits he will be in Moscow.  The Czar will be forced to initiate negotiation.”

            The Russian army under Barclay refused Bonaparte battles and continued its retreat toward Moscow.  There was a battle at the city of Smolensk; Bonaparte could either attack Moscow or move toward Saint Petersbourg where the Czar resided; he opted for the Capital Moscow.  General Kutuzov replaced Barclay at the head of the Russian army.  A major battle took place on Borodino or Moskowa on September 6; the two armies were equal in numbers of about 125,000 but the Russians had strong defenses. One thousand canons from both sides are vomiting fire; 80,000 perished in 5 hours of engagement, including over 50 generals from both sides; cold rain and violent wind dominated the dark landscape. The Imperial guard of 25,000 strong did not participate in the battle; Marechal Ney exploded “Since the Emperor refuses to be a General then let him go back to Paris and be Emperor”

            Bonaparte saw Moscow on September 14; the Russian troops had vacated their Capital. Emperor Bonaparte moved in the Kremlin the next day. The third day Moscow was burned down by order of its Russian’s governor Rostopschine; all the Russian prisoners were let out of jails with ordered to burn their Capital. General Kutuzoff who had moved east returned toward Voronowo. 

            Napoleon wavered for an entire month for the next step; he could have marched to Saint Petersburg to force the Czar to negotiate but he opted to wait for the Czar to take the initiative for a political settlement.  Napoleon decided to retreat by October 18; he had ordered Marechal Mortier to blow up the Kremlin after he leaves; it was done at 1:30 am on October 23.  

            Bonaparte decided to take a different route but was forced to follow the same route to Smolensk because the troops of Kutuzoff had blocked the way.  The French army had to watch the previous battlefields; the carcasses were still strewn everywhere and the wolves were roaming.  The harsh Russian winter arrived during the long retreat. Over 300,000 of the Big Army died mostly of frost, famine, drowning, and diseases within two months of the retreat.  Of the thousands of horses only 1,500 remained. All canons, carriages, and baggage were left behind for lack of horses.

            Napoleon parted with his army and returned to Paris to take care of “revolts”. Only about 120 thousands French soldiers arrived to their homelands; there are no documents how many of the survivors lived within weeks after arriving home. Napoleon wrote to the French Senate “Your Emperor never felt healthier during the entire campaign”. 

            The Russian army could have easily captured Napoleon as prisoner and totally eliminate the remaining French regiments but it must have been a political decision to let Bonaparte return safe and sound to Paris.  Europe did not expect the disintegration of the French army so quickly and thus had no political alternatives after Napoleon.  It was better to keep Napoleon as the target enemy to unite Europe against a unique enemy than to start political infighting among the monarchs.

            The worst crossing was the Beresina River. What happened before and during the crossing of the Beresina River? Bonaparte just wrote “The French army crossed the Beresina”; period. My next post will expose the harrowing details.


Note: My contention for this war is simple.  Napoleon was feling terribly bored. I was the master of Europe. He was bored by his new wife Emperess Marie-Louise of Austria; he was a new dad. Administration was giving him terrible headache.  He needed a long excursion at the head of the largest army; he wanted to break new Guiness records.  This topic was from Chateaubriand.




August 2022

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