WEBSERY 9/12 – Le Figaro Hors-SÃ © rie devotes an exceptional issue to NapolÃ © on Bonaparte. After having pursued the Russian army as far as Moscow and entering the old capital, the Emperor gave the signal to retreat.
When he crossed the Niemen on June 24, 1812, Napoleon had no idea of making himself master of Moscow. AT?? At the head of an army of at least 500,000 men, he thinks of quickly crushing an enemy far outnumbered. In his proclamation of June 22, he said: “Soldiers! The Second Polish War has started. “He is not talking about war in Russia, proof that he did not originally intend to penetrate deep into Russian territory. He is not unaware of the disastrous precedent of Charles XII of Sweden.
The Napolean strategy is simple: a clear campaign that would end, like in Austerlitz, Iéna, Wagram, a decisive victory which forces the adversary to ask for peace. In the army united by Napoleon, all the countries of Europe are present, including the Austria of the Habsburgs. Opposite, the Tsar can only oppose 200,000 men divided into three armies. From the outset, Napoleon is walking on Vilna where Alexander’s headquarters are located. The Tsar himself wanted a break with France. The Continental Blockade is hitting hard exports of wheat, hemp and timber, vital for Russia. Alexander also suspects Napoleon of thinking of resuscitating the kingdom of Poland at his doorstep. It is a casus belli. He believed that the alliance with France would allow him to destroy the Ottoman Empire for his benefit. He now knows that the Emperor is insatiable. Master of Rome, is he not thinking of seizing Constantinople?
But to Napoleon’s surprise, the Russians are not fighting in Poland. Instead, they abandon Vilna in flames. Napoleon rushed towards Vitebsk, but Barclay de Tolly retreated once again to Smolensk. Fear of confrontation, or scorched earth tactic? The French ranks are already melting: illness, heat, desertions. They are no longer the motivated soldiers of Austerlitz, but foreigners unwilling to fight for a cause that is not theirs.
On August 18, Napoleon’s troops entered Smolensk, empty of inhabitants and subsistence. The Emperor catches up with the Russian rearguard in Valoutina, but Junot lets it escape. Napoleon should have stayed in Smolensk to rebuild his strength but, in his haste to engage in the decisive fight, he continued the pursuit instead of striking the mortal blow in Saint-Petersburg. The Russians continue to retreat towards Moscow, Napoleon finds himself, unwittingly, at the gates of the old capital. Kutuzov, who took command of the Russian army, cannot abandon “the holy city” to the enemy. It is finally the confrontation, on September 7, which ends with the victory of Borodino (according to the Russians, who put forward the heaviness of the French losses) or that of the Moskva (according to the French) , which opens the doors of Moscow to Napoleon. The city will soon be in flames, set on fire by order of its own governor, Count Rostopchine: it will not be said that Russia has left nothing of itself hostage. The Tsar should negotiate. But the Russian people come into the picture. He wants to drive the stranger from his soil. Under popular pressure, Alexander I refused peace.
The Emperor could march on Saint-Petersburg, despite a weakened army, but his staff no longer wanted to fight. Long hesitant, Napoleon decides to fall back on Smolensk. Too late: the first snow falls on Moscow on October 13. On the 19th, Napoleon abandoned the Kremlin and made a second mistake: he took the path to go. Supplies will quickly run out, having been plundered during the offensive. In addition, Cossacks and peasants continue to harass the stragglers and it is now up to Koutouzov to pursue Napoleon. He thinks of encircling the rest of the French army on the banks of the BÃ © rÃ © zina (French victory contrary to what the consecrated expression suggests), but thanks to the courage of the pontonniers of Eblé, most of the fugitives succeeded in crossing the river.
Alerted by the rumor of General Malet’s failed coup d’etat in Paris, Napoleon left the army on December 5 in Smorgoni. He hastily returned to France by sleigh, accompanied by Caulaincourt, while under the command of Murat and then of Prince Eugene, his Grand Army gradually dissolved in the snowy steppes. 500,000 men had crossed the Niemen in June; they are 25,000 to pass it again on December 16. The comparison of the figures makes it possible to measure the extent of the disaster.
Discover on Figaro Store, Le Figaro Hors-SÃ © rie NapolÃ © on: the pope, the myth, the trial “A single man was alive then in Europe; the rest of the beings tried to fill their lungs with the air they had breathed ”. Fifteen years after Napoleon’s death, Alfred de Musset thus expressed the grandeur of the myth he had embodied. That of a strategic genius carried by an irresistible momentum, a flamboyant pope, whose brilliance and panache remain. To commemorate the bicentenary of his death, on May 5, 1821, the Figaro Hors-SÃ © rie is associated with the two major exhibitions organized at the Army Museum (the Death of the Emperor) and at the Grande Halle de la Villette (NapolÃ © on), and retraces, with the help of Napoleon’s best specialists, the incredible journey of the young Corsican Melancholy who became Emperor of all French people . Story of his life in twelve days, illustrated dictionary of the characters (wives, family, generals, ministers), decryption of the myth sifted through history: savior of the Revolution, civil and military genius, conqueror of Europeâ ?? ¦ Discover the incomparable destiny of Napoleon.