Napoleon Bonaparte’s Failed Invasion of Russia in 1812

Topics: Napoleonic Wars, French invasion of Russia, Battle of Borodino Pages: 5 (1527 words) Published: September 5, 2012
Napoleon Bonaparte’s failed invasion of Russia in 1812 was the cause of his eventual downfall. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

To a large extent, Napoleon Bonaparte’s failed invasion of Russia was the cause of his eventual downfall. In 1812 Napoleon marched with his Grand Army into Russia in an attempt to seize the country. The crushing defeat which followed devastated the army, leaving it incapacitated and vulnerable. This venture into Russia crippled Napoleon’s quest for European domination, and destroyed his fiercely defended reputation as an indestructible leader. While Napoleon was at war various coup d’état (overthrow) attempts were made back in France, showing that he had chosen an inopportune time to leave the centre of his power. Furthermore, he was fighting simultaneous wars on two fronts; Russia and Spain. Napoleon also made the mistake of believing in the loyalty of the countries which he had previously conquered. While he was on his campaign in Russia, the powers of Europe conspired against him and awaited a moment of opportunity to mutiny against him. Other factors such as the detested Continental System and rising nationalist movements played a part in the downfall of Napoleon but it is clear that the failed Russian invasion was a turning point in his reign. It destroyed his main fighting force and exposed a moment of weakness which his enemies were quick to exploit. Napoleon was abdicated and exiled in 1815, the result of this crushing defeat in his otherwise successful rule. Napoleon’s defeat in Russia devastated the Grand Army, weakening the defences of France. Napoleon possessed an insatiable hunger for power. Despite his expectations of overthrowing Tsar Alexander, his venture into Russia was fraught with defeat and death. He had not anticipated the cruel and extreme cold which took the lives of many of his soldiers, nor the scorched-earth tactics of the Russian army which destroyed all that it left behind. The Russian Army was ordered to destroy crops and livestock, making it even more difficult for the French army to survive in the harsh climate. Supplies were slow to travel to the Grand Army, and were often attacked by groups of Russian Cossack cavalry. Many soldiers died as the temperatures often reached below –10°C. This combination of lacking supplies and freezing temperatures meant that most of the army perished due to starvation or cold. Surprisingly, these forces took the lives of more French soldiers than the encounters with the Russian army did. Artworks from 1812 show weak, ill and demoralized soldiers. Many are shown to have fallen dead in the snow, where they are left behind [Northern. 1812]. The rest of those who perished were victim to disease or combat. The Battle of Borodino claimed 30 000 lives from the Grand Army, along with many soldiers taken as prisoners of war. Mass graves were created to dispose of those who had died to disease. Napoleon’s Grand Army was being undermined by his mistake in failing to understand the harsh climate of Russia and the tactile use of the land by the native Russian armies. By the time his army reached Moscow the original 422 000 soldiers had been reduced to 100 000 mostly due to cold, disease and starvation [Minard. 1869]. Although Moscow was seized, the Russian army has burned most of the city to the ground, and the Tsar had retreated. Napoleon had not anticipated the determination of the Tsar to protect his rule. It soon became clear that the Tsar would not peacefully surrender, and that the French army could be forced to retreat. The return to France was even more devastating than the invasion as the Russian winter had arrived. Out of an original force of 422 000, only 10 000 made it out of Russia. The notorious Grand Army of Napoleon had truly been devastated beyond easy repair, leaving France an easy target for an attack [Spielvogel. 1999]. The weakening of France’s defences due to the failed Russian invasion allowed Napoleon’s...
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