Napoleon's Defeat in the Russian Federation in 1812

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  • Topic: Napoleonic Wars, Russia, French invasion of Russia
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  • Published : April 28, 2013
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In examining a variety of factors that resulted in Napoleon's defeat in Russia in 1812, judge the most significant of those factors.

The Patriotic War of 1812, or more commonly known as the Russian Campaign, significantly altered the course of European history as Napoleon Bonaparte, a French military leader and adversary of Russia faced a notable downfall of his military rule and career. Czar Alexander I’s fueled France’s campaign in Russia through his withdraw of participation in the Continental Blockade, which was originally established by Napoleon in order to dominate Great Britain through repressing its economic connections with other European nations. Due to the fact that Britain’s ports were the center of commercial trade and exports all across Europe, countries signed under the Continental Blockade faced a dramatic economic downfall; therefore, Russia’s response to this blockade was to openly trade with Britain through black markets, and even “introduced a new trade tariff that discriminated against France and favoured Great Britain”. During the earlier stages of the Napoleonic era which lasted from 1799 through to 1815, the French military leader’s talent commonly allowed him to win quick and decisive battles during domestic and international conflicts. Napoleon’s defeat during the Russian campaign proved to European nations that his tactics in warfare were immensely flawed; and his failure to overpower this vast, Eastern European country was due to three significant factors: tactics employed by the Russian troops, the environment, and the Grande Armee’s weaknesses within itself.

Mikhail Kutuzov, was the leading of the Russian army against the Grande Armee, was well versed with Napoleon’s most victorious method of winning a quick and decisive battle: living off of the land. Tactics that General Kutuzov employed contributed greatly to the failure of the French army in her campaign. Bonaparte relied on his troops to scavenge for resources along the route towards the enemy country, but this was advantageous as it allowed for his army to carry a lighter load and provoked soldiers to travel for hundreds of miles per day. When the Grande Armee eventually crossed the border into Russia, Napoleon was expecting an immediate battle. Nonetheless, this was not the case, as the Russian army retreated further to the east of their motherland; and as they retreated, their opposing tactic, “scorched earth,” disenabled the French troops to live off of the land as food sources and shelters were burned down, as well as water being undrinkable due to contamination . Without these basic resources, the French army could not sustain themselves and gradually began to die off as the Russians drove the French further to the east in Russian territory, annihilating every city along their path. Another example of a tactic employed by the Russians, notably the Czar, Alexander I, imitated a strategy from the Spaniards during the Peninsular Wars of 1808: guerrilla warfare. This irregular type of warfare used by the Czar applied the strength of Cossacks, strong Russian mounted soldiers from the southern region of Ukraine, who disintegrated the size of the French army through indirect grapeshot. Additionally, Alexander was familiar with Napoleon’s talent to manoeuvre his troops around the battlefield, and so during the initial stages of the invasion, “Russia fielded more than 900,000 men, but these forces were scattered in Moldavia, the Crimea, the Caucasus, Finland, and the internal regions, leaving some 250,000 men with over 900 guns to face Napoleon’s army” (Markham, 62). By spreading out the Russian troops, it tightened the chances of Napoleon enforcing an attack on the Russians on the battlefield. Instead, Alexander used Napoleon’s attacking method on the Grande Armee as the French military leader was not expecting a spontaneous attack from his adversaries. Without his soldiers, Napoleon Bonaparte could not expect a victorious battle and...
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