Category Archives: Edward Tufte

Small Multiples, Tableau and Ben Jones


My BI world is changing a bit as I move more towards using Cognos and Tableau at work. In particular, I have a lot of status reports and dashboards to create for my leadership and I have been doing these mostly in Tableau.

I had a situation recently where I wanted to create a small multiples chart versus using a 3D Bar Chart that already existed. I have created small multiples charts fairly easily in Ben JonesMicroStrategy in my previous work, but have never created one before in Tableau. I reached out to Ben Jones (photo, right) at Tableau. I have been a big fan of Ben’s DataRemixed blog for quite some time and have blogged about Ben many times in the past. Ben was gracious enough to create a simple example small multiples chart for me to use to accomplish what I wanted to visualize. I was really impressed that Ben and Tableau did not put me through any red tape for him to help me. He saw I had a need and he helped me.

Much thanks to Ben for his help and I hope this example is useful to you.

Best Regards,


Small Multiples

Edward TufteA small multiple (sometimes called trellis chart, lattice chart, grid chart, or panel chart) is a series or grid of small similar graphics or charts, allowing them to be easily compared. The term was popularized by data visualization pioneer, Edward Tufte.

According to Tufte (Envisioning Information, p. 67):

At the heart of quantitative reasoning is a single question: Compared to what? Small multiple designs, multivariate and data bountiful, answer directly by visually enforcing comparisons of changes, of the differences among objects, of the scope of alternatives. For a wide range of problems in data presentation, small multiples are the best design solution.

A Small Multiples Example by Andrew Gelman

One of the most well-known examples of the use of small multiples is Andrew Gelman’s analysis of public support for vouchers, broken down by religion/ethnicity, income, and state (see image below).

GelmanMr. Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University. His books include Bayesian Data Analysis (with John Carlin, Hal Stern, David Dunson, Aki Vehtari, and Don Rubin), Teaching Statistics: A Bag of Tricks (with Deb Nolan), Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models (with Jennifer Hill), Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do (with David Park, Boris Shor, and Jeronimo Cortina), and A Quantitative Tour of the Social Sciences (co-edited with Jeronimo Cortina).

Andrew has done research on a wide range of topics, including: why it is rational to vote; why campaign polls are so variable when elections are so predictable; why redistricting is good for democracy; reversals of death sentences; police stops in New York City, the statistical challenges of estimating small effects; the probability that your vote will be decisive; seats and votes in Congress; social network structure; arsenic in Bangladesh; radon in your basement; toxicology; medical imaging; and methods in surveys, experimental design, statistical inference, computation, and graphics.

[Click on Image to Enlarge]

Gelman Voucher Map Using Small Multiples

My Small Multiples Chart

Since I cannot show you what I used the small multiples chart for related to my job, I made an illustrative, simple example related to home sales in different regions for the past six months. Below is an example of my chart, which I created using Tableau.

[Click on Image to Enlarge]

Home Sales Small Multiples

Adding Trend Lines

One of the key features I wanted to use in my chart was to be able to show trend lines for each small multiple.

However, when I clicked on Trend Lines -> Show Trend Lines, I kept getting the following error message:

Trend Lines Error Message Panel

Ben pointed out that in my original chart, the Columns shelf, Month needed to be a Continuous data type (green pill) rather than a Discrete data type (blue pill).  If you click in the Month pill, you should be able to select “Change to Continuous” and then you should be able to add a trend line. This occurs because you can only calculate a trend line when two axes are involved. The way I had it set up, the Columns were just different categories or attributes, rather than continuous measures.

I thought this would be a nice tip to pass along.

I hope to be able to share more Tableau tips as I become more proficient with the tool.

Mapping Time: A Detailed Look at Minard’s Flow Map

Charles Minard’s Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812

One of the most famous maps incorporating time was created in 1861 by Charles Minard, a French Engineer.  The map and chart, entitled, “Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813″, brilliantly illustrated the march to and from the Polish-Russian border to Moscow by Napoleon’s army and was profiled in the article, Spatial Unmapped on GIS Lounge.

422,000 soldiers began the journey in June of 1812 towards Moscow and only 10,000 made it back to the border after the failed invasion.  Minard’s map has been acclaimed by many for its clear use of geography and time to show how devastating the invasion of Russia by France was on the troops.

Noted statistician and Yale professor, Edward Tufte, declared in his 1983 book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information that the Minard graph “may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.

Mapping Time

Esri Press has recently released a book inspired by Minard’s Map entitled, Mapping Time:

Published by Esri Press, Menno-Jan Kraak’s book Mapping Time: Illustrated by Minard’s Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812 combines historical and geographic analysis with cartography to examine mapping change over time.

The book includes more than 100 full-color illustrations inspired by graphic innovator Charles Minard’s classic flow line map of Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia.

Kraak is a professor of geovisual analytics and cartography at the University of Twente in Enschede, Netherlands who has also written the textbook, Cartography, Visualization of Geospatial Data.

Book details: Mapping Time: Illustrated by Minard’s Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812 is available in print (ISBN: 9781589483125, 168 pages, hardcover) and e-book format (ISBN: 9781589483668).


Critiquing Data Visualizations

Jeff PettirossCritiquing Data Visualizations

I attended an online webinar today hosted by Data Science Central titled Making Flow Happen: Dashboards that Persuade, Inform, and Engage. The presenter was Jeff Pettiross (photo, right) from Tableau Software. I found Jeff’s presentation to be very informative and helpful, but it was the Q&A session afterwards that I thought brought an interesting topic to the surface.

The question asked was:

When creating a dataviz and taking feedback, how do you determine what feedback is based on personal opinion and what feedback adds flow to your dataviz?

Jeff discussed this as having principal-centered arguments versus personal-centered arguments. So, for principal-centered arguments, you could refer to Edward Tufte when you are discussing the field of data visualization, junk charts or small multiples, Stephen Few for best practices for dashboard design, or Alberto Cairo for best practices for creating infographics. You could also discuss articles and academic research related to data visualization.

Where the water gets murky is when you are exposed to personal-centered arguments or, basically, someone’s personal opinion. Sometimes when you are sitting in a dataviz review session, the criticism or critiques you receive can feel very personal. Some of it may be in the way the person is expressing their opinion and the intonation in their voice. Other times it truly may be personal; that personal may not like the person being reviewed or feels threatened by their work.

Jeff made a real good suggestion related to personal critiques by simply asking more questions. Deflect the criticism and ask them to tell you more about what they did not like about the visualization. For example, they might feel your dashboard is too crowded or too busy. You might want to ask for suggestions from that person. If the situation allows, you could bring up a copy of that visualization and make the changes in real-time as they are stating their suggestions.

Jeff pointed out that, unfortunately, this will not work in all cases. If you are a paid consultant at a company, and the client insists that they want it a particular way, the old motto “The Customer is Always Right” would take precedence here. You could say, “O.K., we will do it this way this time, but I would like you to consider this as an alternative for future visualizations.”

Jeff pointed out that at Tableau, they are a critique-centric culture. They often have review sessions of their visualizations where people from different areas of the company may sit in. For example, you might have Sales people, consultants, marketing, training, etc.  Using thoughtful critiques, spending about 20 minutes on each feature, and including a diverse group of people, they are able to refine the dataviz as a group and learn and hear other people’s ideas on dataviz.

Thanks to Jeff and Data Science Central for a great session today. What do you think? What do you feel is the best way to critique data visualizations?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Best Regards,


Data Visualization: Deconstructing the Map of Beers Using Small Multiples

Beer of Choice

Found this on the Junk Charts blog site:

Business Insider links to this blog with a chart depicting the top beer brands by state.

I like the quilt-like appearance brought on by using the packaging of different brands. The nine glowing yellow islands sitting in the Atlantic Ocean I find annoying. This happens a lot because those New England states are smaller in area than most.

The design problem evaporates if you choose a small multiples approach. A small multiple (sometimes called trellis chart, lattice chart, grid chart, or panel chart) is a series or grid of small similar graphics or charts, allowing them to be easily compared. The term was popularized by Edward Tufte.

According to Tufte (Envisioning Information, p. 67):

At the heart of quantitative reasoning is a single question: Compared to what? Small multiple designs, multivariate and data bountiful, answer directly by visually enforcing comparisons of changes, of the differences among objects, of the scope of alternatives. For a wide range of problems in data presentation, small multiples are the best design solution.

As shown below, there is the added benefit that the regional pattern of brand preference is clearly visible whereas in the original chart, it is rather hard to figure out.

Beer of Choice - Shown using Small Multiples

How We Learn, Online Education and MOOCs, Time Magazine Graph Critique – Part 1

Time MagazineOn my trip home to Arizona from Paris yesterday, I read the Special College Report article in the current issue of Time Magazine (October 7, 2013). It is titled Class of 2025 How They’ll Learn and What They’ll Pay.

I am always interested in they ways different groups (i.e., Government, educators, parents, etc.) perceive what the best way to learn is. Time Magazine points out in their article that 36% of college graduates in a 2011 study did not show any significant cognitive gains over the four years they spent in college. I ask myself, how can this be?

Time goes on to discuss the debates going on over traditional education with a core curriculum and other academics who would rather have students attend a more specialized set of courses that allows them to set their curriculum. It seems, however, that all parties involved are most concerned with students having the skills to do critical thinking upon graduation which will make them more successful in the work force.

Drawing myself into this discussion, I draw on two personal experiences I had during my life-long learning adventures.

The first was when I was at Texas A&M University during the early 1980s working on my undergraduate degree. I had dropped out of college in 1978 after two years to work as a computer programmer. I was restless in college and not very attentive. I loved my computer programming classes and an opportunity presented itself for me to get a real job with real money.

I worked for 5 years as a COBOL programmer when I began to realize that a degree would be important as the Computer Science field became more formalized and education, more specifically a degree in Computer Science, would help determine what types of opportunities would avail themselves to you in the future.

I chose Texas A&M University for its family like atmosphere and my initial discussions with my department before I decided on a school. I also was able to find full-time employment as a computer programmer in College Station which made the choice a lot easier. My boss was also willing to let me take classes during the day and shuffle my work schedule accordingly.

I decided to work on a History degree with a minor in Computer Science. I always loved history and felt the ability to write and put your thoughts on paper would be highly beneficial to a person in computer science (later, I would realize how correct I was in this decision).

The course I want to focus on was a History of Napoleon class I took from the late Shirley Black. Dr. Black provided great narratives of Napoleon’s time in power using great story telling. She seldom focused on a date unless it was highly significant like the Russian Campaign of 1812. Her exams were always pen and paper with challenging questions like “Compare the reigns of Napoleon and Hitler and discuss their similarities, successes and failures.” Since Napoleon and Hitler both made the mistake of entering into Moscow with Winter coming where they would have to endure the cold, harsh winter months ahead, it was a oppportunity to discuss each of their military strategies in terms of this. Her exams usually were along these lines where she would offer us a couple of questions to choose from and address that question using pen and paper. Like it or not, she made us really think about the question; not some multiple choice questions about dates and fill in the blanks.

Rosetta_StoneAnother thing Dr. Black made us do was draw the map of Europe  and Africa and indicate key locations of events relating to Napoleon. She said to us, “If I teach you one thing before you graduate, it will be to know how to find the cities discussed in this class on a map of Europe.” For example, one key location was where Napoleon found the Rosetta Stone upon his entry into Northern Africa.

On Napoleon’s 1798 campaign in Egypt, the expeditionary army was accompanied by the Commission des Sciences et des Arts, a corps of 167 technical experts (savants). On July 15, 1799, as French soldiers under the command of Colonel d’Hautpoul were strengthening the defences of Fort Julien, a couple of miles north-east of the Egyptian port city of Rosetta (Modern day Rashid), Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard spotted a slab with inscriptions on one side that the soldiers had uncovered. He and d’Hautpoul saw at once that it might be important and informed general Jacques-François Menou, who happened to be at Rosetta. The find was announced to Napoleon’s newly founded scientific association in Cairo, the Institut d’Égypte, in a report by Commission member Michel Ange Lancret noting that it contained three inscriptions, the first in hieroglyphs and the third in Greek, and rightly suggesting that the three inscriptions would be versions of the same text. Lancret’s report, dated July 19, 1799, was read to a meeting of the Institute soon after July 25. Bouchard, meanwhile, transported the stone to Cairo for examination by scholars. Napoleon himself inspected what had already begun to be called la Pierre de Rosette, the Rosetta Stone, shortly before his return to France in August 1799.

I find some symmetry in the fact that I would revisit Napoleon again when I took Edward Tufte’s one-day class in 2005 where he discussed Minard’s map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812. I already had an interest in this battle and Dr. Tufte exposed another layer, the data visualization flow map prepared by Minard, to my understanding.

Tomorrow: On-line Learning, MOOCs, and Alberto Cairo

DataViz History: Charles Minard’s Flow Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812 – To Moscow

Continuing The March Since Minard’s map is in French, I have provided an English language version for us to use as we discuss the flow of Napoleon’s march in detail. [2]


To Moscow
The Battle of BorodinoThis time, the Russian withdrawal was less organised. The retreat, covered by the cossack commander Matvei Platov, proved ineffective in slowing up the French chase. As a result, on 10 September the Russian rearguard clashed with Murat’s vanguard. The Russian troops, unable to retreat in good order, were forced to leave many of their wounded and sick in Moshaysk. Napoleon remained in Moshaysk until 12 September. The problem of Moscow reared its head again: no longer a question of pitching battle en route, the Russian forces headed back to the capital of Old Russia. Kutuzov was far more attached to Moscow than Barclay de Tolly was (as a Baltic Protestant, Barclay de Tolly’s allegiance lay primarily with the tsar and the empire, rather than the city of Moscow) and initially saw its loss as the end for Russia. However the previous battle had convinced him that the Russian army needed time and space to recover. A further engagement so soon after Borodino was not high on his list of priorities. At 4pm on 13 September, the day after the Russian army had arrived in Fili (a small village on the western outskirts of Moscow), a council of war was held. There, it was made clear that any attempt to hold the city would result in the destruction of the Russian army, the fall of Moscow and the likely end of the Russian Empire. Kutuzov may have come to that decision already, but as Lieven points out, the agreement (or at the very least a shared blame) had to be reached before he could call the retreat. In attendance were Bennigsen and Barclay de Tolly. Bennigsen was charged with preparing and choosing the battleground for the defence of the city, and he made it clear in later correspondence that he saw Barclay de Tolly and Kutuzov as the culprits behind the decision. Barclay de Tolly supported Kutuzov in his argument: not only would a defeat in front of the gates of Moscow have lost the city, but any subsequent retreat would be severely hampered by having to withdraw – probably hastily – through Moscow. At the end of the meeting, Kutuzov declared: “I know that I am going to have for the breakage, but I sacrifice myself for the good of the fatherland. I order the retreat.” (quoted in Marie-Pierre Rey, op. cit., 2012, pp. 168-169) By the evening of 13 September, the decision had been announced. Despair, shame and anger swept through the army (to be replaced by grim resolve), whilst fear took hold of the civilians all too aware of the Grande Armée’s imminent arrival. Although some inhabitants had started to leave the city before the decision had gone public, there was little time to complete a full civilian evacuation. Archives were hurriedly boxed up, treasures covered, hidden or dispatched from the city. Carriages and carts were requisitioned for transport. At 11pm, the artillery began moving out of the city. The infantry began a few hours later, at 3am on 14 September. That day, as the Russian army passed through, the city descended into absolute chaos. As early as 3 September, however, Fyodor Rostopchin, the governor of Moscow, had begun removing not only all inhabitants considered “foreign” enough to harbour pro-French or pro-Napoleon sympathies (including Germans, Swiss and French) but also all civil servants and local elites, intent as he was to deprive Napoleon of any opportunity to liaise with or develop a relationship with the Russian authorities. Sacking a landed estate, by V. N. Kurdyumov. As Napoleon’s advance guard under Murat approached the city walls, the Russian general in charge of covering the Russian retreat was a certain Mikhail Miloradovich, who succeeded in securing a one-day truce in order to evacuate the army in good order. Murat obliged, and the Russians were able to withdraw unmolested. Murat’s troops did not reach the Dorogomilovo District, in the west, until 2pm on 14 September.

map_of_war_1812_fThe night of 13/14 September, Rostopchin also evacuated the 2000-odd members of the fire brigade and nearly one hundred water pumps from the city. What followed remains uncertain. There is evidence to suggest that Rostopchin gave the order to set fire to the city once the army had left. It may have also been part of the general scorched earth policy of the Russian army ever since the Grande Armée had crossed the border. It equally could have been brought about from looting on both sides. All that is known is that no orders for such an act were given by Napoleon or Alexander (irrespective – in the case of the former – of later Russian propaganda). Whatever the case, early on 15 September Napoleon entered an almost completely deserted Moscow. The population, about 262,000 in 1812, had left, with only 10,000 (some of whom were wounded soldiers) remaining. By midday he had set up his headquarters in the Kremlin. The nature of the evacuation had left a large quantity of food and drink in the city. Yet by the end of the day, the first fires had broken out within the city walls. Between 10.30pm and midnight, the fire spread further, leaping quickly between the closely packed buildings and warehouses. As the wind picked up, controlling the fire became more and more difficult. By the morning of 16 September, the fire had intensified. The Arbat – the historical centre of the city – was destroyed and the University of Moscow’s library had gone up in flames. At midday that day, Napoleon was encouraged to evacuate the Kremlin. Refusing, he remained in the palace until 5.30pm when, “besieged by an ocean of flames” (in Ségur’s words), he was obliged to flee.   He and his officers set up camp in the Petrovski Palace, a few kilometres north-west of Moscow, on the St Petersburg road. The remaining French troops, being completely without the means to bring the fire under control, left the city at the same time. Eugene de Beauharnais lead his troops out on the road to Zvenigorod (to the west). Ney headed north-west towards St Petersburg. Davout took the road to Smolensk. The French forces remained outside of the city limits until 20 September when, as the rain came to fall, the fire was extinguished. Returning to the city that day, the army – officer and common soldier alike – descended into a frenzy of pillage.

Burning of Moscow In the absence of police or any sort of authority, many Russians still in the city joined in. Napoleon returned to the Kremlin. A third of Moscow’s houses were utterly destroyed, whilst only 122 out of 329 churches remained standing after the fire and destruction.   Meanwhile, Kutuzov and the army had evacuated the city on 13/14 September. Initially heading out towards Ryazin’, they had passed through Lyubertsy on 16 September and continued south-east. Then, Kutuzov suddenly turned west and passed back in front of Moscow at high-speed. Fortunately for the Russians, the Grande Armée was to prove too exhausted to follow the withdrawal. On 18 September Kutuzov was in Podolsk, before continuing on to his encampment near Tarutino, about 100km to the south-west of Moscow. This position not only allowed him to harass the French lines of communication, but also stay in contact with the Russian forces under Tormasov and Chichagov, commander of the Army of the Danube. He was also well placed to watch over the workshops and arms factories in nearby Tula and Briansk, and receive supplies which came up to Kaluga from the fertile lands to the south, in modern-day Ukraine. map_of_war_1812_g Napoleon was left with a few choices. He could make his winter quarters in the ravaged city of Moscow. He could head south towards the breadbasket of The Ukraine. Or he could make for St Petersburg. This latter option would have been feasible had he the men and the material, but as it was, he would be forced to march through the winter-ravaged land with the possibility of being cut off by the remaining troops under Kutuzov. Napoleon however seemed convinced that an approach to treat from Alexander was imminent. Nor was a great deal of coordinated effort made to organise winter equipment and supplies. Napoleon, by various means, sought to engage Alexander, but each one remained ignored. On 20 September, Napoleon wrote to Alexander: “The beautiful and fine city of Moscow is no more: Rostopchin has had it burnt down. Four hundred arsonists have been caught in the act; they all declared that they were lighting the fire on the order of this governor and the director of police: they have all been shot. The fire now seems to have abated. Three-quarters of the houses have been burnt, one-quarter remains. […] How is it possible to destroy one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the work of centuries in the achievement of such a weak aim? […] The fire has opened the way to pillage, in which the soldiery is competing with the fire for the remains. If I once for a moment imagined that such things had been done on Your Majesty’s order, I would not be writing this letter; however I am convinced that it is impossible, given your principles, your spirit and your enlightened ideas, that you ordered such excesses, unworthy as they would be of so great a sovereign and so great a nation. […] I made war against your majesty without bitterness; one word from you, whether before or after our recent battle, would have stopped my advance and I would even have agreed to forgo the advantage of entering Moscow.” [20 September, 1812, Correspondance générale, Fayard/Fondation Napoléon, 2012, n° 31,736, p. 1,103] 470px-Napoleon_watching_the_fire_of_Moscow_01 Upon learning of Kutuzov’s movements, he dispatched Bessières to observe the Russian movements. Poniatowski and his force reached Podolsk on 24 September.   By 4 October, Napoleon knew that a decision had to be taken. Macdonald’s siege of Riga was threatened by the arrival of Governor of Finland Faddey Steingell at the head of 10,000 men. Although Macdonald successfully repelled the threat, Steingell linked up with Wittgenstein, still in the area. To the south-west, Chichagov and Tormasov threatened Schwarzenberg, based near Brest-Litovsk. There were over nine hundred kilometres between Riga and Moscow, and more than a thousand kilometres between Napoleon and Brest-Litovsk. Any further advance would simply increase these distances. In the end, Napoleon was to stay in the Moscow about a month. What was the plan there? The mounting of an attack on St Petersburg was apparently mooted; huge amounts of stores were amassed with the idea of wintering in the Russian capital; reinforcements were on their way from Smolensk. But the situation in Moscow was not good. The city was half burnt and the troops had plundered much. And not far to the south-east, the Russian army, by no means out of action, was preparing to counterattack. Furthermore, partisan units were successfully harrying transport columns, and, as the encounter at Taroutino would show, despite their chaotic approach, the Russians were still a force to be reckoned with. Kutuzov was later to boast that he had played the French emperor, dragging out negotiations with Napoleon because the Russian knew that the French in Moscow were stuck in a trap. It is possible however that, taking into account the fact that he said this in December 1812, this assertion was made with the benefit of hindsight. And in the same conversation, Kutusov also convincingly remarks that he thought that Napoleon had waited too long, letting himself be obsessed with obtaining a peace treaty instead of continuing to be belligerent. Be that as it may, Napoleon’s actions in Moscow seem to imply hesitation, and in the mental and strategic void, the emperor took the fateful step of heading, too late, back west.

Next: Retreat

[1] Dr. Daniel Churchill, MITE6323  – Interactivity, Visualization, Emerging Technologies and Paradigms, The University of Hong Kong, February, 2007.

[2] Mike Stucka, English translation of Minard’s classic chart of Napoleon’s March,, November 4, 2006,

[3] Napoleon’s Russian campaign: From the Niemen to Moscow,,

[4] Karl von Clausewitz, Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia in 1812,

[5] Art of the Russias, Figurative, 1812, Part 10,

DataViz History: Charles Minard’s Flow Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812 – The Battle of Borodino

Continuing The March

Since Minard’s map is in French, I have provided an English language version for us to use as we discuss the flow of Napoleon’s march in detail. [2]


The Battle of Borodino

The Battle of BorodinoOn 7 September, at the Battle of Borodino, the Russians sought to fight a battle of attrition. Knowing that they were clustered densely around the defensive positions erected in the area (Raevski’s Redoubt and the v-shaped earthworks known as the Bagration flèches), the hope was that Napoleon would be limited tactically and forced to simply meet the Russians head-on. The Russian command knew that this strategy would cost them a great deal of men. The massed ranks of Russian troops formed a thick curtain of troops, whilst the battlefield and troop arrangement made any military manoeuvres almost impossible. The battle has gone down in history not for its strategic brilliance but for the sheer destruction of life on both sides.

After the battle, General Lariboisière estimated that the French artillery – all 587 guns – had fired about 60,000 times, with the infantry having gone through 140,000 cartridges: it is thought that the Russians fired slightly fewer cannon shots (50,000) and 20,000 fewer cartridges. For a battle that lasted about ten hours, this works out at about three cannon shots per second and more than 430 musket shots per minute (figures in Marie-Pierre Rey, L’Effroyable Tragédie, 2012, pp. 156-157). The Russian artillery numbered over 600 pieces, but problems in supplying enough ammunition coupled with a failure to concentrate their fire where it mattered meant that they proved less effective than the French guns. The Russians also lost Aleksandr Kutaisov, the artillery commander: his body was never found. One Russian officer, Lieutenant Andreev, noted in reference to the cannon fire: “They said that the sky burned [that day]. But we could barely make out the sky through the screen of smoke.”

The Battle of BorodinoAt 6.30am, the French forces hit the right-wing of the Russian army, surprising Kutuzov, who expected the first hit to come against the left-wing. Troops commanded by Eugène and led by General Delzons crashed out of the dawn fog and into the Russian forces stationed in Borodino. After a brief counter-attack around 7am, the village fell. At the same time, troops under Davout and Ney attacked the southern-most Bagration flèches, guarded by men under General Mikhail Vorontsov and Neverovsky. The defensive works exchanged hands in the three hours up to 10am, when Ney finally seized them back for the French. By midday, the French troops had fought off the Russian counter-attacks and secured the position. The day was to get worse for the Russians: Bagration was gravely wounded during the battle and had passed out. He would eventually die from the related infection on 24 September. The central redoubt was the site of particularly bloody fighting, captured and lost in turn – swinging like a “pendulum” in the words of Dominic Lieven Russia against Napoleon (p. 201) – as both sides manoeuvred to secure the position. During the fighting, Montbrun died after shrapnel ripped through his kidney, whilst his replacement in the struggle for the redoubt, General Auguste de Caulaincourt (brother of the diplomat), was also killed.

The Batte of Borodino

The Batte of Borodino

Finally, around 6pm, the cannon fire stopped and the two sides retired to their headquarters: Napoleon to Shevardino, Kutuzov to Moshaysk, 15km to the east. Although Napoleon anticipated picking up where he had left off the next morning, in reality the battle was over. The battle was to prove one of the bloodiest in the entire history of the Napoleonic Wars: the Russians had 45,000 dead, wounded or missing, whilst Napoleon’s losses totalled between 28,000 and 35,000. Dominique Jean Larrey, chief surgeon, estimated that he had performed about two hundred amputations – most as a result of artillery fire – in the first twenty-four hours after the battle.

The victory – in terms of territory won and losses inflicted – was Napoleon’s. It was not to be however the decisive one he so craved: the remnants of the Russian armies retreated back towards Moscow, leading Napoleon to declare “La paix est à Moscou”. In relaying the result of the battle to Alexander, Kutuzov’s description painted it as a victory to the Russians. Later Russian army bulletins even described how the French army had been torn to pieces, albeit without any mention of the death toll. Debate remains as to whether the victory could have been the one Napoleon wanted had he committed his Guards. His officer corps had been divided on the issue during the battle – Murat, Davout and Ney for their introduction in order to bring the battle to its conclusion; Berthier, Duroc and Bessières against, for fear that a damaged Guards regiment would affect morale so far from Paris – and historians have continued to debate how successful their introduction would have been. As it was, the Guards remained in reserve, Kutuzov retreated down the Moscow road, and Napoleon found himself obliged to give chase once again.

Next: To Moscow


[1] Dr. Daniel Churchill, MITE6323  – Interactivity, Visualization, Emerging Technologies and Paradigms, The University of Hong Kong, February, 2007.

[2] Mike Stucka, English translation of Minard’s classic chart of Napoleon’s March,, November 4, 2006,

[3] Napoleon’s Russian campaign: From the Niemen to Moscow,,

[4] Karl von Clausewitz, Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia in 1812,

DataViz History: Charles Minard’s Flow Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812 – Polotsk, Smolensk and on to Borodino

Continuing The March

Since Minard’s map is in French, I have provided an English language version for us to use as we discuss the flow of Napoleon’s march in detail. [2]


Polotsk, Smolensk and on to Borodino

To the north, on the French left flank, Oudinot had been charged with linking up with Etienne-Jacques-Joseph-Alexandre Macdonald – leading the 10th Corps and himself ordered to capture the stronghold of Riga – and pushing back Wittgenstein. Although Oudinot never succeeded in joining up with Macdonald, he did engage Wittgenstein between 30 July and 1 August. The first battle actually took place on 28 July, between Wittgenstein’s advance guard (under General Kulniev) and Oudinot’s light cavalry and the 6th infantry division, commanded by Corbineau and Legrand respectively, at Kliastitsy (35km north of Polotsk). This initial clash saw the French surprised and pushed back: the second meeting, which ran over 30 July, 31 July and 1 August, saw further French losses as the Russian artillery held the advance. Kulniev was however killed leading a charge late on 1 August, the Russians lost about one thousand men, and the battle came to an end with Oudinot withdrawing south towards Polotsk and Wittgenstein falling back northwards. As a result, Gouvion-Saint-Cyr, who commanded the Bavarian VI Corps and had already been instructed to offer Oudinot support, was obliged to force march from Biešankovičy (about 80km south-east of Polotsk) to Polotsk. Setting out on 4 August, the Bavarian corps reached Polotsk on 7 August. That same day, Oudinot set out from Polotsk, heading towards Wittgenstein’s position at a village called Rosiza, north of the Drissa camp. On 11 August, the Russian commander headed south towards Svol’na (Belarus), intent on cutting Oudinot off. The latter retreated back towards Polotsk. For the memoirs of D’Aupias which recount in detail this northern theatre, see here (text in French).

Polotsk, Smolensk and on to Borodino

Source: Mr. Yankey’s World History Class, Owasso Mid High School, 8800 N 129th East Ave, Owasso, OK 74055,

By now, Alexander was aware that it was becoming politically dangerous to cede such huge swathes of Russian territory without a fight. He therefore wrote to Barclay de Tolly on 9 August indicating the need to go on the offensive and begin fighting back properly against the invaders. Despite the push from both within and without the army to attack Napoleon in open battle, Barclay de Tolly remained unconvinced. Arguing that pitched battle against the Grande Armée risked leaving the Russian empire completely undefended should he prove unsuccessful, Barclay de Tolly continued to pursue his defensive retreat, hoping that slowing Napoleon would allow Alexander time to put together a reserve force. Further south, in Gorodeczna (north-east of Brest-Litovsk, between Pruzhany and Kobrin), on 12 August troops under Schwarzenberg and Reynier defeated a Russian force commanded by Tormassov. On the afternoon of 15 August, troops under Murat and Ney arrived at the western edge of Smolensk, where elements of the 1st and 2nd Western Armies had convened (including Dokhturov’s VII Corps, infantry from Konovnitzin’s II Corps and Neverovsky’s 27th Division).
Over the course of 16 and 17 August, Ney’s and Murat’s troops, along with Poniatowski’s Polish Corps, clashed with the Russians pitched in Smolensk: Barclay de Tolly – who was resolved to continue the retreat and draw Napoleon ever eastwards – called a withdrawal. About 11,000 Russians died defending the city.   Back in the north west, the First Battle of Polotsk took place between 17 and 18 August and saw Oudinot’s troops, supported by Gouvion-St-Cyr’s Bavarians, meet Wittgenstein’s reinforced 1st Corps of about 22,000 men. The Russian attack centred on the village of Spas (near Polotsk) but by the end of the first day, both sides had maintained their positions. Oudinot was wounded during the day, and Gouvion-St-Cyr took over the command. On 18 August, a French counter attack was launched and succeeded in pushing Wittgenstein back, who decided that withdrawal was the best course of action. Although the Russians had withdrawn (Gouvion-St-Cyr was made a maréchal shortly afterwards, on 27 August, 1812), Oudinot’s march on St Petersburg was held up. The latter came in for some severe criticism from Napoleon, who considered that Oudinot had allowed himself to be cowed and bullied by Wittgenstein. Alexander, for his part, would later declare Wittgenstein to be the “saviour of St Petersburg” whilst Gouvion-St-Cyr praised the Russians for their orderly and combative retreat. The Russian troops fell back to Sivoshin, 40km or so from Potolsk, and there was to be no further combat until October.   The 1st and 2nd Western Armies’ march back in the direction of Moscow was to prove eventful. Having evacuated Smolensk (which was by now in ruins), and forced along poor country roads in order to avoid the French artillery, Barclay de Tolly’s rearguard – commanded by Eugen of Württemberg, Alexander’s cousin – was severely harried by Napoleon’s advancing troops, commanded by Ney and Murat. The retreat had begun in confusion and a complete lack of coordination, caused in part by poor organisation, difficult roads, and a night-time departure. As a result, Württemberg’s troops were caught by Ney’s advancing force.


Meanwhile, troops under Pavel Tuchkov (who was later captured during the combat and imprisoned), held their nerve and succeeded in protecting the Moscow road to the east of Smolensk. These skirmishes, which took place on 19 August near Valutino and Gedeonovo (on the outskirts of Smolensk, near modern-day Lubino), are often claimed as French victories. Although the Russians were forced to withdraw, the advancing troops under Ney and Murat were held up long enough to allow the Russians to retreat to a safe distance. Napoleon, who believed the Russians to have retreated further back than they in actual fact had, remained away from the frontline, installed in Smolensk since 16 August. In the end, the lack of concerted push from the French saved the Russian army. Smolensk had been left to the French, but Napoleon knew that Moscow would not be abandoned without a serious fight.   On 18 August, Kutusov was appointed supreme commander, replacing Barclay de Tolly, whose tactics had been widely criticised, particularly by Bagration. Barclay de Tolly remained in command of the 1st Western Army, but Kutusov now dictated the strategy. Since the retreat from Smolensk, a defensible position for battle with Napoleon had been sought somewhere along the Moscow road. Dorogobuzh and the nearby Usv’atye fields (the site of Colonel Toll’s open criticism of Barclay de Tolly’s strategy, an incident on 21 August known as the “Mutiny of the Generals”) were both suggested and rejected. Time was running out as the Russian forces retreated back towards Moscow. Eventually, the small village of Borodino, 124 kilometres from Moscow was chosen.   On 25 August, Napoleon – based near Dorogobuzh (about ninety kilometres east of Smolensk) – received the wounded Tuchkov, where he proposed peace talks. Tuchkov refused and later that autumn was dispatched to Metz.

By 28 August, the Grande Armée had arrived in the town of Vyaz’ma, 114km from Borodino. The retreating Russian troops had sought to raze it to the ground, but the French forces succeeded in extinguishing the fire and salvaging the town’s food stores. On 29 August, Kutusov joined up with the retreating Russian forces on the Moscow road. On 30 August, 2,000 reinforcements under General Miloradovich arrived, and at the start of September, the Russians were in Borodino. On 31 August, two cossacks were captured by Murat’s forces: Napoleon subsequently learned of Kutuzov’s promotion and arrival as commander of the Russian forces. On 1 September, Napoleon arrived in Gjatsk (modern-day Gagarin, Russia), just sixty or so kilometres from Borodino.

The run-up to  Borodino

Despite being chosen as the site to pitch battle, Borodino was not without its faults. The Old Smolensk Road, which cut in from the west behind the Russian position (the latter running from Maslovo, through Borodino and the destroyed village of Semenovskoe – Raevski’s Redoubt – and onto the Russian left-flank stationed at Shevardino), offered the advancing Grande Armée a route behind Russian lines. To avoid this, Bagration’s troops, stationed at Shevardino, started to push south eastwards to Utitsa, due south of Borodino.   On 5 September, the French advance guard under Murat appeared on the Russian left-wing near Shevardino, commanded by Major General Count Sievers. Murat, with Davout, captured the villages of Alexinki and Kolotsa, near Shevardino. Meanwhile Poniatowski moved up from the south and captured Doronino. During the fierce battle, the Russians lost between 5,000 and 6,000 men and were pushed back. French losses totalled about 4,000. As a result, a large majority of the Russian forces stationed at Borodino were squeezed into the small area of land between Semenovskoe and Borodino.   The morning of 5 September, French forces totalled slightly more than 140,000 men (of which Napoleon would commit 124,000, refusing to commit his elite Guards regiment), with the Russian troops at about 110,000. On 6 September, the two sides recuperated from the previous day’s battle and made preparations for the next clash.   The night before the battle, Kutuzov roused his troops, declaring: “Companions, Fulfil your duty. Think of the sacrifices made of your cities delivered to the flames and of your children who implore your protection. Think of your emperor, your lord, who considers you to be the source of his strength, and tomorrow, before the sun has gone down, you will have written your faith and your loyalty to your sovereign and your fatherland in the blood of the aggressor and his armies.” (Quoted in French in Marie-Pierre Rey, L’Effroyable Tragédie, 2012, p. 155) “Compagnons, Remplissez votre devoir. Songez aux sacrifices de vos cités livrées aux flammes et à vos enfants qui implorent votre protection. Songez à votre Empereur, votre Seigneur, qui vous considère comme le nerf de sa force, et demain, avant que le soleil ne se couche, vous aurez écrit votre foi et votre fidélité à votre souverain et à votre patrie avec le sang de l’agresseur et de ses armées.”

The Battle of Smolensk

At 2am on 7 September, Napoleon dictated his famous proclamation, to be read to the troops at about 6am: “Soldiers! Here is the battle that you have so much desired. From now on victory depends on you: it is necessary to us. It will give you abundance, good winter quarters, and a prompt return to the fatherland. Conduct yourselves as at Austerlitz, at Friedland, at Vitebsk, at Smolensk, and let the most distant posterity point with pride to your conduct on this day. Let it be said of you, ‘He was in that great battle under the walls of Moscow.'” “Soldats ! Vous avez supporté les privations et les fatigues avec autant de courage que vous avez montré d’intrépidité et de sang-froid au milieu des combats. Vous êtes les dignes défenseurs de l’honneur de ma couronne et de la gloire du grand peuple. Tant que vous serez animés de cet esprit, rien ne pourra vous résister. Soldats, voilà la bataille que vous avez tant désirée ! Désormais la victoire dépend de vous : elle nous est nécessaire. Elle nous donnera l’abondance, de bons quartiers d’hiver et un prompt retour dans la patrie ! Conduisez-vous comme à Austerlitz, à Friedland, à Vitebsk, à Smolensk, et que la postérité la plus reculée cite avec orgueil votre conduite dans cette journée ; que l’on dise de vous : il était à cette grande bataille sous les murs de Moscou !”

Next: The Battle of Borodino


[1] Dr. Daniel Churchill, MITE6323  – Interactivity, Visualization, Emerging Technologies and Paradigms, The University of Hong Kong, February, 2007.

[2] Mike Stucka, English translation of Minard’s classic chart of Napoleon’s March,, November 4, 2006,

[3] Napoleon’s Russian campaign: From the Niemen to Moscow,,

[4] Karl von Clausewitz, Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia in 1812,

DataViz History: Charles Minard’s Flow Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812

DataViz History: Edward Tufte, Charles Minard, Napoleon and The Russian Campaign of 1812 – Part 5

Charles Minard’s Flow Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812

Charles Minard's Flow Map of Napoleon's Russian Campaign of 1812

[Click on map to see full size version]

The chart above also tells the story of a war: Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812. It was drawn half a century afterwards by Charles Joseph Minard, a French civil engineer who worked on dams, canals and bridges. He was 80 years old and long retired when, in 1861, he called on the innovative techniques he had invented for the purpose of displaying flows of people, in order to tell the tragic tale in a single image. Edward Tufte, whose book, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” is a bible to statisticians, calls it “the best statistical graphic ever drawn”. [SOURCE]

Minard’s chart shows six types of information: geography, time, temperature, the course and direction of the army’s movement, and the number of troops remaining. The widths of the gold (outward) and black (returning) paths represent the size of the force, one millimetre to 10,000 men. Geographical features and major battles are marked and named, and plummeting temperatures on the return journey are shown along the bottom.

The chart tells the dreadful story with painful clarity: in 1812, the Grand Army set out from Poland with a force of 422,000; only 100,000 reached Moscow; and only 10,000 returned. The detail and understatement with which such horrifying loss is represented combine to bring a lump to the throat. As men tried, and mostly failed, to cross the Bérézina river under heavy attack, the width of the black line halves: another 20,000 or so gone. The French now use the expression “C’est la Bérézina” to describe a total disaster.

In 1871, the year after Minard died, his obituarist cited particularly his graphical innovations: “For the dry and complicated columns of statistical data, of which the analysis and the discussion always require a great sustained mental effort, he had substituted images mathematically proportioned, that the first glance takes in and knows without fatigue, and which manifest immediately the natural consequences or the comparisons unforeseen.” The chart shown here is singled out for special mention: it “inspires bitter reflections on the cost to humanity of the madnesses of conquerors and the merciless thirst of military glory”.

What does the map show us [1]

  • Forces visual comparisons (the upper lighter band showing the large army going to Moscow vs. the narrow dark band showing the small army returning).
  • Shows causality (the temperature chart at the bottom).
  • Captures multivariate complexity (size of army, location, direction, temperature, and time).
  • Integrates text and graphic into a coherent whole.
  • Illustrate high quality content (complete and accurate data, presented to support Minard’s  argument against war).
  • Place comparisons adjacent to each other, not sequentially (people forget if they have to go from page to page ).
  • Use the smallest effective differences (i.e., avoid bold colors, heavy lines, distracting labels and scales).

Let’s look at the map in detail

Since Minard’s map is in French, I have provided an Englsh language version for us to use as we discusss the flow of Napoleon’s march in detail. [2]


Crossing the Niemen River – So It Begins

5-26-2013 8-37-35 AMAs Napoleon concentrated his enormous coalition army in preparation for the invasion of Russia,  three Russian armies were positioned to guard the western frontier: the 1st Western Army, under Mikhail Barclay de Tolly, the 2nd Western Army, under Prince Pyotr Bagration, and the 3rd Western Army, under Alexander Tormasov. In June 1812, the 1st Western Army was stationed along the frontier with East Prussia and the Duchy of Warsaw. The 2nd was placed further south in modern Belarus. The 3rd stood yet further south, but still in Belarus. The overall commander of these three armies was Alexander himself, who was installed in Barclay de Tolly’s headquarters near Vilna.

On 23 June, the Prussian major (and later military theorist) Karl von Clausewitz, who had recently entered Alexander’s service, reached the Drissa camp (northwest of Polotsk on the Dvina, near modern Verkhniadzvinsk in Belarus) to inspect the site and report on the progress being made on its defensive works and fortifications. He remained unconvinced of its defensive qualities and said so to Alexander on 28 June. Despite the fact that the camp had appeared central to Russian strategy pre-invasion, it would prove of little worth once the Russian forces had withdrawn from the western frontier.

News of the Grande Armée’s advance guard crossing the Niemen (24 June, 1812) reached Alexander and Barclay de Tolly that same day, late in the evening. The order to withdraw to the Drissa camp was issued shortly afterwards, and Barclay’s units fell back.

Between 26 and 27 June, the order to retreat back from borders spread to each of the Russian corps commanders. Although most of the 1st Western Army’s withdrawal was relatively untroubled, General Dokhturov’s 6th corps, stationed between Lida and Grodno, was almost cut off by the Grande Armée’s crossing of the Niemen and Davout’s troops making for Minsk. Only by force marching did the 6th corps avoid the advancing French troops and reach Drissa unmolested. It was also on 26 June that Alexander dispatched a letter proposing talks with Napoleon, provided that the French emperor retired back over the border. The messenger was held up by Davout and only succeeded in reaching Berthier and Napoleon at the end of the month. The evacuation of Vilna began late on 26 June: by the time Napoleon received Alexander’s messenger and letter, Vilna had been occupied by the Grande Armée. Barclay de Tolly left the city early on 28 June, having destroyed the remaining depots as well as the bridge across the Dvina. Napoleon’s advance troops arrived about an hour later.

Next: The March Continues


[1] Dr. Daniel Churchill, MITE6323  – Interactivity, Visualization, Emerging Technologies and Paradigms, The University of Hong Kong, February, 2007.

[2] Mike Stucka, English translation of Minard’s classic chart of Napoleon’s March,, November 4, 2006,

[3] Napoleon’s Russian campaign: From the Niemen to Moscow,,

DataViz History: Edward Tufte, Charles Minard, Napoleon and The Russian Campaign of 1812 – Part 4

The Russian Campaign of 1812 (Below: The Battle of Berezina)


NOTE: The following text is from the following source. I have also provided a link to that source. I found this narrative one of the best discussions of the Russian Campaign of 1812 and wanted to include Major McGhee’s text in its entirety. The images I have added are mostly from The Battle of Berezina.

Soldiers of Fortitude: The Grande Armee of 1812 in Russia
by Major James T. McGhee [SOURCE]

Author and historian David G. Chandler identifies Napoleon Bonaparte as “one of the greatest military minds that has ever existed.” Indeed Napoleon’s exploits as a military commander and his subsequent rise to the position of Emperor of France and much of Europe has produced an enormous amount of scholarly interest. Historians, political scientists, military theorists and others have published volumes on Napoleon and his times.

Napoleon’s rise to power was achieved in a large part by his many military successes. His remarkable victories over the combined armies of Europe won him recognition and glory as a general and finally Emperor. However, through the many challenging and bloody campaigns it was the soldiers serving under Napoleon and in the Grand Army and their sacrifices that provided Napoleon with his power over Europe. Napoleon expected nothing less from his troops. He pushed them beyond human endurance to achieve total victory over his enemies. According to Napoleon, “The first qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only the second; hardship, poverty, and want are the best school for a soldier.” In 1812, Napoleon embarked on a campaign that would test the limits of these qualifications in his soldiers. Those who endured the brutal march of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812 and survived may be considered, most certainly by Napoleon’s standards, some of the most qualified soldiers in the history of warfare.

On 31 December 1810, the Czar of Russia issued a ukase, which broke Russia’s alliance with France and threatened to destroy Napoleon’s Continental System and his strategy of economic warfare against England. Napoleon immediately began organizing a new Grande Armee large enough to ensure an overwhelming victory over the army of the Czar. Napoleon had immense resources at his disposal. His influence collected men and material from across Europe, including France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Prussia, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Although sources differ, Connelly declares that, “by June 1812, Napoleon had a field army of 611,000 men with 2000 guns and 250,000 horses.”

To defeat the Czar, Napoleon intended to use his proven strategy of forcing his opponents to engage in a decisive battle of annihilation designed to shatter the enemy’s capacity and will to resist and therefore avoiding the need to capture geographical objectives or the Russian capital. He did not intend on having to march too far into the interior of Russia to accomplish his objectives. Nonetheless, Napoleon ordered that extensive logistical preparations be made in Prussia to support his advance. In Danzig alone, Napoleon had concentrated rations to support 400,000 men and fodder to support 50,000 horses for 50 days. This consisted of millions of pounds of rice, wheat and oats. As many as 1500 wagons and 50,000 draft horses were required to transport the supplies. Meat rations were to be provided by beef on the hoof driven along behind the advancing army.

Napoleon’s main forces, dressed magnificently and singing glorious marching songs, crossed the bridges over the Niemen River on 24-25 June and moved immediately towards the city of Kovno. The oppressive heat characterized the Russian weather in June. The effects of the heat were exacerbated by the uniforms and equipment carried by the soldiers. Although uniforms within Napoleons “army of twenty nations” varied widely, the uniforms of the time were generally a dark color of blue or gray and were made of wool. These uniforms absorbed the intense heat making it all the more unbearable for the soldiers. The heavy weight carried by the individual soldier could also drain a man’s strength and test his endurance. A fully supplied French infantryman carried an average load of 60 pounds. This typically consisted of his basic uniform, his rifle, equipment including a bayonet, canteen (if available), a cartridge pouch with 60 rounds of ammunition, a blanket, and a knapsack containing two spare shirts, two pair of shoes, a spare pair of pants and half-gaiters, eating utensils, personal items and four days of rations (if available). There were however numerous shortages or variations in equipment across the different national armies within the Grande Armee . The Imperial Guard for example, carried their full dress uniform, adding another five pounds to their load. Additional equipment such as hand axes and small cooking pots were also issued to select individuals. Individual tents however were no longer issued to the troops. According to Napoleon, “Tents are unfavorable to health. The soldier is best when he bivouacs, because he sleeps with his feet to the fire, which speedily dries the ground on which he lies. A few planks and a morsel of straw shelter him from the wind.” The lack of shelter in Russia would prove critical over the coming months.

The considerable heat created very dry conditions along roads that were supporting the passage of hundreds of thousands of men, horses, wagons and carriages. Enormous clouds of dust arose from the dry roads of Russia, enveloping all who traveled them. The dust and the heat were oppressive and torturous. Lieutenant Karl von Suckow describes the march, “Of all the unpleasant things we had to endure, one of the most unbearable was the thick dust which enveloped us on the march, much of the way in very dry weather…. I recall that at one stage, so as to prevent anyone taking a wrong turning, a drummer was stationed at the head of each battalion, and his job was to beat the drum all the time. This fact alone will indicate just how dense the clouds of dust were.” An officer and veteran of the Peninsula Campaign in Spain reported, “I must admit that I had never been so troubled by the heat or the dust in the Peninsula as was so often the case on these marches during the summer of 1812 in Russia. The air along the wide sandy tracks was really like an oven, oppressively hot was it and so unrelieved by the slightest puff of wind. If one was unfortunate enough to be caught between the innumerable wagons, which ploughed along in deep sand ruts at the slowest pace of the draught animals, and have to remain among them for hours on end without being able to escape, then one would suffocate. Eyes, nose, mouth, and ears were often so clogged with grains of sand that one seemed to have lost the use of all one’s senses. The dust lay so thick on my dark-gray dolman, which was faced with red that it was no longer possible to make out the slightest trace of this color.”


Through the unbearable heat and suffocating dust, the army marched routinely 10-12 miles a day. Increases in the rate of march could double the distances traveled. Captain Roeder reports in his memoir of marching from six in the morning to seven in the evening. The French routinely provided only for very short breaks during the march. The soldiers traditionally received only five minutes every hour and thirty minutes only after marching 30 kilometers (18.6 miles). After five days of marching a day of rest might be given.

For many, the dust combined with the heat, the weight of their pack and the speed and distances of the march was too exhausting to allow them to continue. Soldiers and horses by the hundreds began dying almost immediately of exhaustion and dehydration due to dysentery.

Relief from the extreme conditions of heat and dust came on 28 June in the form of severe thundershowers. However, the relief of the showers found in cooler temperatures and fresh water soon brought even more despair. The soldiers lacked any clothing or shelter to protect them from the drenching rain. Their uniforms became soaking wet, adding additional discomfort, and weight to their already heavy loads. The rain also brought with it chillingly cool temperatures for which many were unprepared. Those men like Lieutenant Suckow, suffering from the heat of the previous days were now suffering in the cold, many having discarded excess clothing including their underwear. Sergeant Jean-Roch Coignet of the Imperial Guard was present when the weather changed, “On 29 June a violent storm broke. The hailstorm was so bad that we had great trouble in controlling our horses, and it became necessary to tether them to the wheels. I was half dead with cold, and unable to stand any longer. I opened one of my wagons and took refuge inside. The next morning a heart-rending sight met my eyes. The ground was covered with horses, which had died of cold. On reaching the road I found some dead soldiers who had not been able to withstand this appalling storm, and this demoralized a large number of our troops.”


The storms also turned the dry, dusty roads into a sea of mud and the fertile fields established as campsites were quickly turned into mucky bogs. Men slipped and fell or became stuck in the viscous mud. Uniforms previously covered in dust and washed by the drenching rains were now covered in the sticky mire of Russia. Captain Roeder remembers such a night, “The night was black as pitch. We were soaked to the skin and unable to see whether we were lying in a clean place or in the filth left by our predecessors. I myself first lay down in the proximity of a dead horse.” “I rolled myself in my rug with my wet cloak under me.” The muddy roads impeded travel as wagons and guns became foundered in the ruts created by hundreds of wagons before them. Provision trains began to lag behind and many wagons were discarded because of the loss of horses. The cattle following the army could not maintain the pace of the march and fell behind. Food became more difficult to obtain and hunger spread throughout the Army.

To combat the breakdown of the supply system soldiers began to forage the countryside in search of food, horses, and perhaps a bottle of wine. Foraging was not discouraged. Despite the immense logistical preparations, foraging by the army was expected. Jacob Walker encouragingly wrote that, “We now believed that, once in Russia we need do nothing but forage.” Napoleonic expert and author Gunther Rothenberg explains, “Despite his often-quoted pronouncement that ‘an army marches on its stomach,’ Napoleon remained essentially an improviser. He could never free himself from the experience of his first Italian campaign when a small, highly motivated army, moving rapidly in a rich countryside had sustained itself from local resources and captured supplies.”

The soldiers became experts at foraging. These expeditions could prove quite successful depending on the expedition’s location within the column of march and their persistence. Those located in the front of the march column tended to fair better than those in the middle while the supply trains trailing the army better supported those in the rear. The Russian countryside was not as rich as other countries in Europe but it could help sustain an army. Unfortunately for Napoleons men, it was sustaining the Russian army who retreated steadily in front of Napoleon’s advance. “It was custom with the Russian rear-guard to burn every village as they abandoned it. What they contained in forage and subsistence was rapidly used, and nothing therefore remained. This became a deliberate practice, which extended itself widely to the towns, great as well as small.” This destruction forced the Russian peasants to fear the Russian soldiers as much as the French, forcing them to hide their livestock in the woods or bury their food in the earth for safekeeping. French soldiers entering a town usually found very little initially. But persistent and thorough searches more often than not turned up something of value. A thorough search by Jakob Walter’s foraging parties uncovered such caches, “It was necessary to raise the floors and the beams in order to find anything and to turn upside down everything that was covered. Under one such floor, which had large beams resting side by side, we found pots full of sausage stuffed into casings four to five feet long and filled with pieces of bacon and meat an inch thick. Here we also found hidden pots filled with lumps of cheese. In another well-plundered village nothing could be found in the houses; and so, urged on by our hunger, we dug in the ground. Here I with several others removed a large pile of wood, which had probably just been put there. We removed this, dug in to the ground, and found covered roof of planks. Under the planks, there was an opening twelve feet deep. Inside there were honey jars and wheat covered with straw.” Successes of this type helped to sustain many in Napoleon’s army but they did not relieve the great misery of the masses of men and horses.

Following a two-week stay in Vilna, Napoleon on 16 July ordered his troops to march towards Vitebsk. The welcome rest in Vilna had provided the supply system an opportunity to provide some rations to the soldiers. The men of Captain Roeder’s company were each issued sixteen loaves of bread. However, many sold the bread being “less afraid of collapsing from hunger than from fatigue.” The blistering heat of July, combined with the miserable dust, biting insects and the exhausting pace of the march, continued to devastate the ranks of Napoleon’s army. Those soldiers marching in the middle or rear of the column often had to march past the corpses of those men and horses who had fallen. The sights seen along the road are remembered once again by Captain Reoder, “We saw a good 3,000 horses lying by the roadside, overcome by fatigue or bad feeding, mostly from being overfed with green corn, and more rotting human corpses, which at this season of the year make a hideous stench. On some stretches of the road I had to hold my breath in order not to bring up liver and lungs, and even to lie down until the need to vomit had subsided.”


The shortage of water affected thousands. Wells found along the route were often drunk dry to quench the thirst of those who arrived first, leaving nothing for those who followed. Very often the Russians had polluted the wells before their retreat. Many soldiers drank from putrid wells only to discover afterwards human corpses or the remains of a dead horse left behind as a surprise by the Russians. For many, water could only be found in the low areas or swamps. According to Walter, “In order to obtain water for drinking and cooking, holes were dug into the swamps three feet deep in which the water collected. The water was very warm, however, and was reddish-brown with millions of little red worms so that it had to be bound in linen and sucked through with the mouth. This was, of course, a hard necessity of our ways.” Thousands became ill from drinking the water and developed severe dysentery. Others marched without water until they were overcome by either heat exhaustion or dehydration.

Napoleon assured his army they would get a break at Vitebsk but this did little to relieve the sufferings of his men. An unnamed civilian traveling with the army as a painter wrote of the condition of the army in July, “The weary horses often stumbled and fell. Whole columns of hundreds of these poor beasts had to be led in the most pitiful conditions, with sores on their withers and discharging a stream of pus. They had all lost weight till their ribs stood out, and looked a picture of abject misery. Already in the middle of July the army was in this state! I am beginning to lose heart. Two whole months on the march and for what purpose? And through what country? It distresses me to be compelled to waste God-given time so wretchedly.” Many men had reached the end of their physical and mental endurance and could withstand no more. Suicide became a common escape chosen by many. Lieutenant Suckow remembers, “Hundreds killed themselves, feeling no longer able to endure such hardship. Every day one heard isolated shots ring out in the woods near the road.”


Napoleon entered Vitebsk unopposed on 29 July, the Russians retreating and once again denying Napoleon the decisive battle he so urgently sought. The destruction of the enemy’s main field force, rather than the mere occupation of territory or the capture of the enemy’s capital remained Napoleon’s main objective. However, if the enemy continued to elude destruction and if he was able to fall back into endless depths of Mother Russia, then Napoleon faced severe problems. Every mile that Napoleon advanced weakened his army while it allowed the Russians to fall back on their reserves of men and supplies.

The Russians had retreated back to the ancient, walled city of Smolensk were they intended to make a stand against Napoleon. Napoleon, seeing an opportunity to engage the Russians in a decisive battle ordered his army to march onward to Smolensk. He needed his victory, as the state of his army continued to deteriorate. His officers began doubting the fruitfulness of continuing the campaign. On 11 August as the army approached Smolensk, General Erasmus Deroy commanding the 19th Division sent a report back the King of Bavaria announcing, “The food is bad, and the shoes, shirts, pants, and gaiters are now so torn that most of the men are marching in rags or barefoot. Furthermore, I regret to have to tell Your Majesty that this state of affairs has produced a serious relaxation of discipline, and there is such a widespread spirit of depression, discouragement, discontent, disobedience, and insubordination that one cannot forecast what will happen.”

On 16 August, French troops began to position themselves in a semi circle around the city in preparation for their attack. The main battle took place on the 17th. The Russians put up a fierce resistance on many fronts but were steadily forced to withdraw in the face of advancing infantry and devastating artillery fire. The French discovered on the morning of the 18th that the entire Russian army had vacated the city during the night and formed positions on the other side of the Dnieper River. Napoleon achieved a costly victory at Smolensk but failed to destroy the Russian army. He lost between eight and nine thousand men during the battle and three fourths of the city had been burned and destroyed. Russian losses were also high with as many as 7,000 bodies found on the field.


The battle at Smolensk had not provided Napoleon with the decisive victory he so desperately needed. He had to decide to pursue the Russians to Moscow, if necessary, or remain in the already devastated city of Smolensk. The combatant strength of his Army was down to 150,000 soldiers, having lost a great portion of his army during the march. A Wurttenburger Major described to Captain Roeder the effects thus far of the march and the battle of Smolensk on his Regiment, “When we left home we had 7,200 infantry, but although we have fought no battle other than that at Smolensk, we cannot muster more than about 1,500 men, as a result of the battle a third of these were lost, so that now we are scarcely more than 1,000 or 900 strong.” The urge to continue on and defeat the enemy proved too great for Napoleon to overcome. In the past he had never failed to defeat his opponents in a single campaign and this one would be no different. He decided to continue the march to Moscow, another 310 miles away.

The Road to Moscow led through the cities of Dorogobush, Semlevo, Viasma, and Gzatsk. The absolute misery and poverty of the army continued, as best described by Walter,

“The march up to there, as far as it was a march is indescribable and inconceivable for people who have not seen anything of it. The very great heat, the dust which is like a thick fog, the closed line of march in columns, and the putrid water from holes filled with dead people, and cattle brought everyone close to death; and eye pains, fatigue, thirst, and hunger tormented everybody. God! How often I remembered the bread and beer, which I had enjoyed at home with such an indifferent pleasure! Now, however, I must struggle, half wild, with the dead and living. How gladly would I renounce for my whole life the warm food so common at home if I only did not lack good bread and beer now! I would not wish for all my life. But these were empty helpless thoughts. Yes, the thought of my brothers and sisters so far away added to my pain! Wherever I looked, I saw the soldiers with dead, half-desperate faces. Many cried out in despair, ‘If only my mother had not borne me!’ Some demoralized men even cursed their parents and their birth.” Napoleon reached the city of Gzatsk on 1 September. There, the number of 150,000 soldiers who had left Smolensk was now down to 133,000. None-the-less, upon arrival at Gzatsk, Napoleon’s mood was joyous. Scouts had returned to report that the Russian’s were preparing battle positions near the town of Borodino.

Napoleon allowed three days for his supply trains to move forward, and to plan his attack. On September 4th his Army marched to Borodino and by the evening of the sixth the two armies faced one another. Orders were given by Napoleon to attack on the morning of September 7th. At 2:00 a.m. a proclamation from Napoleon was read to the troops, “This is the battle you have longed for! Now the victory depends on you: you need it. It will give you abundance, good winter quarters, and an early return home.”[24] At 6:00 a.m. over 500 guns began to roar.


The battle of Borodino was one of violence and confusion. It was fought bitterly by both sides. The fighting was often hand-to-hand and the number of casualties was severe. Captain Charles Francios served in the 1st Division and took part in the battle, “Our regiment was ordered to advance. We were riddled with grapeshot from this battery and several others flanking it, but nothing stopped us. Whole files, half-platoons even, went down under the enemy’s fire, and left huge gaps. A Russian line tried to stop us, but at thirty yards range we fired a volley and passed through. Then we dashed through the redoubt and clambered through the embrasures. The Russian gunners received us with handspikes and rammers, and we fought them hand to hand. They were redoubtable opponents. I had been through more than one campaign, but I had never found myself in such a bloody melee and up against such tenacious soldiers as the Russians.” Arguably, total victory was in Napoleons grasp but he hesitated and failed to commit his prized Guard. The Russians began to fall back but it was too late in the day for Napoleon to prevent their withdrawal. That night the Russians made a hasty retreat from the battlefield. Napoleon was the victor but at a horrible cost. French casualties ranged from 28,000 to 31,000 men including 47 generals. Russian casualties were even greater, numbering at least 45,000. The road to Moscow was open but the Russian army was intact and Napoleon was no closer to victory.

Those men who were killed at Borodino were perhaps the more fortunate, for the survivors could not possibly know the hardships and misery that awaited them in the future. Those who suffered the most at present however were the wounded. Medical services during this time were archaic. Many wounded were left on the field for days. Others managed to make it back to a hospital on their own. Those removed from the field often had to endure an agonizing ride on a jolting wagon. At the hospitals there was little knowledge of hygiene, antibiotics did not exist and the most often used treatment for severe battle wounds was amputation. Patients lay in the hospitals enduring not only the pain of their wounds but also, thirst, flies, the cries of the living and the stench of the dead. A vivid description of conditions comes from the recollections of a young commissary, Alexandre Bellot de Kergorre, “When I took up my duties I had to look after the needs of the hospitals. These contained three thousand patients lying in two stone-built houses. Our poor, unfortunate wounded were dying of hunger and thirst. They were bandaged with hay for lack of lint and linen, and they groaned dreadfully. For the first few days they lived on the few grains they could find in the straw they lay on, and on the little flour I was able to give them. The absence of candles was a terrible privation. A shocking thing was the impossibility of removing the dead from among the living. I had neither medical orderlies nor stretchers. Not only was the hospital full of corpses, but so were the streets and a number of houses. After attending to the most pressing needs of the living, I used some carts I had found to remove corpses from the hospital. On my own I took away 128, which had been serving as pillows to the sick and were several days old.”

The Russian’s retreated back to Moscow were they considered once again to make a stand against Napoleon in defense of the ancient capital. However, the Russian commander, Kutuzov, arguing that the survival of the army was more important than the defense of the city, decided not to defend Moscow. “You are afraid of falling back through Moscow, but I consider it the only way of saving the army. Napoleon is a torrent, which we are as yet unable to stem. Moscow will be the sponge that will suck him dry.”


On 14 September Napoleon entered Moscow, finding a city completely undefended and nearly deserted. The army had strict orders not to pillage but the men could not be controlled as they forced themselves into the palaces and houses. Two days later fires swept through Moscow for three days, burning down four fifths of the city. Despite the immense destruction of the fires, the soldiers were able to find an abundance of vegetables, preserves, sugar and spirits. Shortages of meat and bread remained. Walter remembers, “Here one could find and buy provisions; for each soldier was now a citizen, merchant, innkeeper, and baker of Moscow. Silks, muslins and red Morocco leather were all abundant. Things to eat were not wanting either. Whoever could not find something could buy something and vegetables in sufficient quantity stood in the fields. It was still good weather, and one could sleep warm enough under a coat at night”

Napoleon worked feverishly to sign a treaty with the Czar who he was certain was ready to negotiate a peace. For four weeks Napoleon hesitated in Moscow while his attempts failed. Ignoring warnings about the coming winter, Napoleon considered his options. He could not safely winter his troops in Moscow and his marshals adamantly opposed a march to St. Petersburg. The weather began to turn colder. Freezing rain and snow began to fall. The Russian winter was fast approaching. The army once again began to deteriorate as the effects of exposure to the cold, wet weather, and disease killed hundreds of men and thousands of badly needed horses. The Emperor Alexander refused to sign a peace, leaving Napoleon no choice but to retreat. The goals of his campaign were unachievable and a failure as everything had been calculated on the destruction of the Russian Army and a negotiated peace.

Napoleon decided to make a strategic withdrawal from Moscow and move south towards Kaluga. By taking this route, Napoleon hoped to travel through cities that had not already been pillaged or devastated. The army began leaving Moscow on 19 October 1812. The great retreat from Moscow had begun.

Preparations were made, and 100,000 soldiers departed Moscow trailing some 40,000 carriages and wagons, many filled with the riches of Moscow rather than the provision necessary for the march. “For nearly forty miles I had to pick my way through the army’s procession of horse-drawn vehicles,” noted Colonel Count Roguet.  “Every one was laden with useless baggage.” Some soldiers such as Jacob Walter made better preparations for the march. Walter says, “I put on a round hat, wrapped my head with silk and muslin cloths and my feet with thick wool cloth. I had on two shirts and two vests and over my doublet a thick large Russian coat, which I had taken from a Russian in exchange for my own at Smolensk on my trip into Russia. Over this I wore a thick fur.”

The Russian army moved to cut off Napoleon’s route and stood firm at the key town of Maloyaroslavets. A fierce battle was waged and both sides suffered heavy losses with the Russians losing about 7,000 soldiers and the French losing 4,000. Napoleon realized that if he continued to move to the south his army would meet further resistance. He made the fateful decision to trace his return route along the same road on which he had advanced to Moscow. The retreating Russians had already burned down this route and the French had already exhausted what was left behind. On 25 October, the French army departed Maloyaroslavets with 96,000 soldiers.

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The Russian winter arrived with all its severity on the 6th of November. Unimaginable suffering overtook the army. Ice and snow covered the roads, making transport nearly impossible. Horses slipped on the ice and could not be lifted back to their feet. Men began dying of exposure, freezing to death where they fell as the temperature dropped to 17 degrees below zero. Starvation once again began to devastate the ranks. Foraging parties left the main column of march in search of food only to be driven away, killed or captured by the Russian Cossacks. “The soldiers knew there was plenty to be had if they could move to the left or right, but they were hemmed in on either side by the Cossack horsemen, who knew that all they had to do was ride, as for killing, they could leave that to General Winter. Confined to the great road the whole army was now living almost entirely on horse flesh.”

Many faced the risks of leaving the road to forage. Those soldiers captured by the Russians received little mercy. Very often they pleaded to their captures to kill them and end their misery. But vengeance demands suffering and few had their desires of a quick death satisfied. Prisoners were routinely stripped naked and marched through the sub zero temperatures. Others were either tortured or killed by the peasantry whose methods of revenge were most horrific. Prisoners were reported has having been burned or buried alive. One observer witnessed “Sixty dying naked men, whose necks were laid upon a felled tree, while Russian men and women with large faggot-sticks, singing in chorus and hopping round, with repeated blows struck out their brains in succession.”

Those who were able to continue would retain the haunting memories of suffering masses during this march to Smolensk. Of the 96,000 who left Maloyaroslavets, nine days later only 50,000 would enter the city. The temperature had dropped to 28 degrees below zero. The barrels of the muskets were so cold that they stuck to the hands of those carrying them. Only those who witnessed the events are able to accurately describe the horrors of those nine days. Sir Robert Wilson witnessed, “The naked masses of dead and dying men; the mangled carcasses of 10,000 horses which had in some cases been cut for food before life had ceased; the craving of famine at other points, of forming groups of cannibals; the air enveloped in flame and smoke; the prayers of hundreds of naked wretches flying from peasantry, whose shouts of vengeance echoed incessantly through the woods; the wrecks of cannon, powder-wagons, all stores of every description: it formed such a scene as probably was never witnessed in the history of all the world.” General Count de Langeron, commander of a Russian infantry division, “saw a dead man, his teeth deep in the haunch of a horse which was still quivering. I saw a dead man inside a horse, which he had disemboweled and emptied in order to crawl inside and get warm. I saw another man tearing with his teeth at the entrails of a dead horse.”

Smolensk contained warehouses full of supplies unable to be moved to support the army due to inadequate transportation. The first soldiers to enter the city looted the depots for themselves leaving almost nothing for the poor wretches who followed. Discipline within the army had completely broken down. It had become a world of every man for himself as if all humanity had vanished for anyone who would stop to help his fellow man would be the next to fall. The soldiers had seen so much suffering and death that they had become numb to the sufferings and deaths of others. In a rare act of compassion Sir Robert Wilson attempted in vain to help a suffering soldier, “I was just putting a bit of biscuit into my own mouth, when I turned my eye upon a French grenadier’s gaze. It was too expressive to be resisted; I gave him what I designed for myself. The tears burst from his eyes, he seemed to bless the morsel, and then, amidst sobs of gratitude, expressed his hope that an Englishman might never want a benefactor in his need. He lived but a few moments afterwards.”

The march immediately proceeded through Smolensk in the direction of Vilna. Leaving Smolensk, Captain Roeder remembers, “What a frozen multitude are lying in the streets! Many have laid themselves there in order to freeze. One steps over them almost unmoved because the daily scenes of horrible misery of this accursed war have dulled all feeling for the suffering of others.”


The road to Vilna required the army to cross the Berezina River in order to prevent his dwindling army from being completed surrounded and annihilated by Russian forces concentrating there. At this time of year, the river was usually frozen over but the weather suddenly turned unusually warm making the ice too thin and the river impassable without a bridge. Napoleon decided to make a feint attack at the Russians near Borizov while his engineers built bridges across the river at Studenka. On 26 November, Napoleon executed his plan. “At eight o’clock in the morning the bridge-builders began placing their trestles at equal distances in the river, which was thick with large floes. The men went into the water up to their shoulders, displaying superb courage. Some dropped dead and disappeared with the current, but the sight of this tragic end did not diminish their comrades’ efforts. The Emperor watched these heroes and did not leave the river bank.” The construction of the first bridge was completed by 11:00 o’clock that morning. Oudinot’s Corps was across the river and had established a bridgehead by dark. The following morning, Napoleon ordered the corps of Ney, Davout, Junot, and Eugene with the reserve and Guard across the river. A mad rush ensued to cross the bridges to safety. The scene was a continuance of the misery and chaos plaguing the army. As the army fought a defensive action, the Russians rained fire and shell down upon those who were attempting to cross the river. Captain Francois Dumonceau records, “The crowd of disbanded troops had arrived and created a block by flocking from all sides, infiltrating everywhere, congesting the ground over a considerable area and refusing to give way or let us through. This disordered multitude persisted in moving forward, and formed a confused tangle of men, horses and vehicles which increased in numbers all the time almost to suffocation-point, pushing up to the river where several were drowned-thus renewing in all their horror the appalling scenes of the various earlier passages, but this time on a much larger scale in relation to the extent of ground.” Hundreds of corpses covered the ground within two hundred yards of the bridges. Russian cannon balls tore through the ranks of people each killing three to five people crossing or pushing their way onto the bridges in the hope of saving themselves. One shot struck a powder magazine in a wagon causing a great explosion, which killed hundreds.


At 9:00 a.m. on the 29th the French rear guard could no longer hold back the Russians and was forced to cross the river and burn the bridges behind them. Ten thousand stragglers were left behind to fall into the hands of the Russians. The army had been saved and Napoleon could claim another “victory” but only at the high cost of 25,000 battle casualties. The road to Vilna with its large stores of supplies was now open.

The next day Count De Rochechouart found himself at the bridge site, “Nothing in the world more saddening, more distressing! One saw heaped bodies of men, women, and even children; soldiers of all arms, all nations, choked by the fugitives or hit by Russian grapeshot; horses, carriages, guns, ammunition wagons, abandoned carts. One cannot imagine a more terrifying sight. Both sides of the road were piled with dead in all positions, or with men dying of cold, hunger, exhaustion, their uniforms in tatters, and beseeching us to take them prisoner. However much we might have wished to help, unfortunately we could do nothing.”157912~Napoleon-1769-1821-after-his-Abdication-Posters

The suffering of the survivors was far from over. A Russian major describes the soldiers as they marched toward Vilna, “Most of them had neither boots nor shoes, but blankets, knapsacks or old hats around their feet. No sooner had a man collapsed from exhaustion than the next fell upon him and stripped him naked before he was dead.” However, with the road open, Napoleon hastily left his army for Paris to raise a new army and protect his government from any attempted coup.

What remained of the Grande Armee was turned over the command of Murat. He led them into Vilna on 8 December. A repeat of Smolensk ensued; the soldiers immediately looted the supply depots, discipline once again being non-existent. The weather turned according to Coignet, “so severe that the men could no longer endure it; even the ravens froze.” Not wanting to become trapped in Vilna, Murat ordered the army to march onto to Kovno and then onto Posen. “There in mid-January 1813, he could count 40,000 organized troops, if demoralized, troops (including some from garrisons along the way) and perhaps 20,000 stragglers-many pitiful scarecrows, some stark mad from their experiences.”

Napoleon’s splendid Grande Armee had been completely decimated in the Russian campaign under his generalship. The immense sufferings and the enormous loss of life caused by his actions hardly affected the Emperor. Important matters had to be attended. He still had to attempt to hold together his coalition and build a new army. He would remark, “Those men whom Nature had not hardened against all chances of fate and fortune seemed shaken; they lost their cheerfulness and good humor, and saw ahead of them nothing but disaster and catastrophe. Those on whom she had bestowed superior powers kept up their spirits and normal dispositions, seeing in the various ordeals a challenge to win new glory.”

Napoleon’s maxim of hardship and want was tested to the limits of human endurance during the catastrophic campaign in Russia. The soldiers who survived most certainly endured hardships unsurpassed by those who have never seen the horrors of war. They would emerge from their trials victorious as survivors and as perhaps, the most “qualified” soldiers in the world by Napoleon’s standards.

Next: Charles Joseph Minard’s Now Famous Map


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