The Road to Moscow
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Russia 2012 Information 1 - Early History 2 - Peter the Great 3 - St Petersburg 4 - Life After Peter 5 - Road to Moscow
Tsar Alexander I

At the time of Paul's assassination, his son was actually in the palace.  Surely Alexander, 23, heard the piteous screams of his father being stabbed to death.

As Nicholas Zubov, one of the assassins, made his way out of the castle, he saw Alexander standing there pale as a ghost.  Alexander knew just what had just happened.

The general said, "Okay, boy, you're the Tsar now. Time to grow up!  Go and rule!"

Was Alexander involved in his father's death?  Probably, but not in the murder. Few facts exist.  Count Pahlen, one of the conspirators, used his position to destroy many documents that could have shed more light on the details. 

The best guess of the historians is that Alexander gave his consent to the coup, but stipulated it could take place only on the strict condition that his father's life be spared. Obviously he trusted the wrong people to do his dirty work.

...Oops!  Hey, sorry, kid, but we got drunk and accidentally killed your dad. Too bad, but it was his own fault for not doing what we told him to do...

Unlike his predecessors, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, Alexander had a weakness known as a conscience.  He had just been a party to his father's own murder. 

Why Alexander agreed to allow it to happen is the million dollar mystery.  By all accounts, Alexander was one of the most principled and spiritual men to ever ascend to the Russian throne.  Furthermore, his father had not been mean or evil to Alexander.  Nor did Alexander seem power-hungry.  Without a clear motive, this situation remains a riddle.

Gaining Tsardom through this hideous crime surely created some nightmares.  Knowing he had a hand in his father's death instilled a remorse in Alexander that would linger for the rest of his life.

Apparently nobody bothered to tell Paul's wife Maria Feodorovna what was going on.  Shortly after her husband's assassination, Maria Feodorovna remembered how Catherine the Great had succeeded her own murdered husband Peter III.  The next morning Madame Feodorvna tried to proclaim herself Empress.  The conspirators told Alexander to set her straight.

It took Maria's son, Alexander I, several days to persuade her to relinquish her reckless claim.

"Gee, Mom, they killed Dad so that I could be the ruler, not you."

That's when Maria Feodorovna figured it out.  For some time afterward, whenever her son Alexander came to visit, the Dowager Empress would place a casket between them containing the bloodstained nightshirt that Paul was wearing on the night of the murder

Eventually the strained relationship between mother and son improvedSince his mother Maria Feodorovna was only forty-two years old when she became a widow, Alexander made sure his mother kept the highest female position at court. From this point on, his wife Louise was forced to appear after her mother-in-law at all public events. Of course Louise didn't care for this arrangement, but she accepted it.

The Early Years

Considered by many to be a sensitive soul, Alexander began his rule in 1801 with many lofty principles and ideals.  Growing up at the feet of his illustrious grandmother, Alexander was Catherine the Great's hand-picked successor. The Golden Prince had received more training in advance of his role than any previous Tsar other than Peter the Great.  It had been 5 years since Catherine died and now he was ready.

The country was very excited at the prospects of Alexander's reign; there were great hopes for the future of Russia and the anticipation of a more liberal form of government and increased freedom for serfs.

At first the Tsar did little to discourage these aspirations.  Alexander did everything he could to act on his noble ideas.  However, he soon discovered the hard way that the nobility of Russia refused to cooperate unless they had no choice.  The Russian system allowed wealthy people to get much wealthier while the majority of the population lived lives of poverty and desperation.  There was practically no such thing as upward mobility.  The nobles liked this system just fine.  To ask them to sacrifice for the good of the people was a concept they could not even begin to conceive. 

Catherine the Great had come up against the same entrenched attitudes and hadn't gotten very far either.  Paul had lost his life trying to change things.  Peter the Great was the only one to make any progress.  If someone didn't follow his orders, he just cut their head off.

Alexander was a little too gentle to start lopping off heads.  So he didn't see much progress with his social reforms.

Frustrated and demoralized, Alexander turned away from his childhood dreams and principals. Increasingly he found it easier to get results by using the power of autocracy. Once he began using autocratic power, administered through men who served at his will, it corrupted him. The longer he used this method of ruling Russia, the more difficult it made it to return to the principals of good government he had learned in his youth.  Alexander turned cold and cynical.

However, very few people remember much about Alexander's role in running the government.  Alexander is famous as the first man to ever stop Napoleon in his tracks.  The two men would go down in history as closely linked adversaries. 

Napoleon and Alexander

The underlying story of Alexander in regards to the intimidating French dictator is how Alexander started out as a weakling and grew to be a man... just as Zubov, the man who killed his father... ordered him to.  The highlight of Alexander's monarchy came when he refused to knuckle under to the bullying tactics of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Alexander started out as a friend of France.  His French tutor La Harpe had instilled in him a love for the principles of the French philosophers.  In addition, the language and the customs of the French played a significant role in St. Petersburg society.

However, when Napoleon began his conquests, Alexander became skeptical of Napoleon's motives.  In October 1801 Alexander dispatched La Harpe to France to discuss common ground between the nations.  For a while it seemed as though France and Russia might come to an understanding.

Carried away by the enthusiasm of La Harpe, who had returned to Russia from Paris, Alexander began to openly proclaim his admiration for French institutions and for the genius of Napoleon Bonaparte, the man who was turning France into a superpower. 

However, after his next visit to France, La Harpe warned Alexander that his opinion of Napoleon had changed dramatically.  He believed Napoleon was quite likely a tyrant.

When Alexander learned of Bonaparte's cold-blooded  execution of the Duke of Enghien on trumped up charges (1804), it became obvious to him that La Harpe was correct.  The Duke was an innocent man.  Napoleon simply wanted to get rid of the man.  Bonaparte talked a good game, but was a gangster at his core.

Alexander broke off relations with France and entered into a coalition aligned against Bonaparte.  Meanwhile Napoleon was surprised.  Russia could be very useful to him as an ally. Napoleon never gave up hope of detaching Alexander from the coalition.

Austerlitz 1807

In 1807 Napoleon took his army to Austria.  At the Battle of Austerlitz, the French badly whipped the alliance of Prussian, Austrian and Russian forces. 

Napoleon had no sooner entered Vienna in triumph than he opened negotiations with Alexander.

Russia and France, Napoleon urged, were geographical allies.  There was no true conflict of interests.  Russia could operate at one of end of Europe, France could operate at the other end of Europe. 

Their sphere of operations could stay exclusive.  Working together the two countries might rule the world. 

But Alexander was not persuaded by Napoleon's offer to cut the world in half. Alexander preferred to stick with his allies.

Friedland 1807

Once again Alexander allied himself with the Kingdom of Prussia to take on the French war machine.

Once again Alexander had defeat rammed down his throat.  He was learning the hard way about France's military superiority.

The Battle of Friedland (June 14, 1807) saw Napoleon I's French army decisively defeat Count von Bennigsen's Russian army in Friedland on the Polish-Russian border.

After the battle, Napoleon saw another opportunity to turn the Russian Emperor.

Instead of demanding punitive terms, he invited Alexander to a private meeting.

Tilsit 1807

The two Emperors met at Tilsit in June 1807.  Napoleon was only 8 years older.  Napoleon turned on the "big brother" charm. What kept these two men from being personal friends?  What stopped these two countries from enjoying a partnership of glory?  He offered his alliance to the chastened autocrat for the second time.

Napoleon knew just how to appeal to the exuberant imagination of his new-found friend. He would divide the world with Alexander.  Russia could have the Danube, Finland, and all of Turkey, India, and any other Asian country he wanted. 

Alexander, dazzled by Napoleon's genius and overwhelmed by his apparent generosity, was completely won over. His anti-French feelings were changed at the personal meeting with Bonaparte.  Alexander agreed to partner with France.

The agreement paid immediate dividends for France. The Continental System was a large-scale embargo against British trade which began in November 1806. 

England was France's greatest enemy. 

Protected by the North Sea, the greatest moat in history, invasion of the island of Great Britain was out of the question.  The only way France could attack England was by breaking it economically.

So the France had a rule - trade with England was forbidden. 

Any country that broke the rule could expect to be attacked. Since France occupied almost all of Europe, few countries had the guts to oppose France.  Napoleon wasn't kidding.  When Portugal resisted, Napoleon immediately invaded the country.  Napoleon understood that the blockade of England was useless without total compliance.

This alliance with Russia was important to France. All that remained to complete his "Continental System"–a unilateral European blockade designed to economically isolate Britain and force its subjugation–was the cooperation of Russia.

After the Tilsit agreement, Russia acted as France's ally against England.  When Sweden, Britain's ally, refused to comply with French demands, it was invaded by Russia in February 1808 in accordance with the Tilsit agreements.  Napoleon was pleased.  His recruitment of Russia was paying immediate dividends. 

Napoleon was right.  If Alexander had accepted his role as junior partner and cooperated closely with Napoleon's ambitions, the world today might be divided into French West and Russia East. 

However, there were two things that kept it from working.  Alexander did not share Napoleon's ease at sending people to their death and Napoleon didn't play well with others.  If Napoleon had looked inside a little deeper, he would have admitted he would never share the glory.  There was only room on this continent for one Emperor.


As the years went by, Alexander grew increasingly suspicious of Napoleon's motives.  Napoleon had promised to let Russia deal with the countries of the Danube such as Austria and Prussia. However, rather than allow Russia to deal with the countries of the Danube, French forces stayed in the area.  Russia maintained its alliance with France, but Alexander grew ever more suspicious. 

Franco-Russian relations became progressively worse after 1810. Napoleon was angry with Russia because he suspected that Russia and England had been trading secretly for some time.  And he was right.  Before the war, England had been Russia's main trading partner. Russia chafed under the embargo and decided to begin trading again on the sly.

Meanwhile, Napoleon continued to annex parts of Austria and Prussia. Alexander began to entertain the idea that Napoleon was playing him for a sucker.  Contrary to the Napoleon's promise of dividing the world into two spheres, Napoleon's armies remained uncomfortably close to Russian borders.  By 1811, it became clear that Napoleon was not keeping to his side of the terms of the Treaty of Tilsit.

Meanwhile, this Continental System was ruinous to the Russian economy. So, in 1812, Russia broke the agreement of Tilsit and began to trade openly with England.  Napoleon was furious. 

He moved his army closer and closer to Russian borders.  When Napoleon annexed a slice of Poland that Alexander had warned him to leave alone, Alexander issued a blunt warning - back off from Poland or expect retaliation.

No one talked to Napoleon like that, especially a pipsqueak Tsar with a third-rate army. Napoleon had increasingly come to view Europe as his own domain.  Napoleon didn't particularly desire war with Russia, but his habit of subjecting every country to his will was clearly leading to a conflict of the Titans.  France already had all the territory it needed for its glory, but the Tsar's defiance intrigued him. Someone needed to teach Alexander a lesson.

War With Russia

In 1812, French Emperor Napoleon I was at the height of his fortunes. The Peninsular War against Spain and Britain was a thorn in the side of his great European empire, but he was confident that his generals would soon triumph in Spain.  Now Russia had just sided with England, his greatest foe.  Napoleon needed the continued cooperation of Russia to economically isolate Britain and force its subjugation.

To intimidate Alexander back into compliance, Napoleon massed his forces in Poland in the spring of 1812 along the Russian border.  Still the Tsar resisted.

In Dresden, Napoleon invited his staff to discuss invading Russia.  There was an unusual amount of disagreement.  There was only one man in the room who thought it was a good idea.

Napoleon stood up and asked for quiet.  He began a speech about certain victory.

“Russia is a semi-Asiatic nation which cannot field an army as large as your own, and has no literature or music to speak of.

It is a barbarian nation, and barbarians are superstitious and have simple ideas. A single blow delivered at the heart of the Russian Empire, at Moscow the Great, Moscow the Holy, will, in a single instant, put this whole blind apathetic mass into despair.  Alexander will come back to me, just as he did at Friedland.”

Seeing that Napoleon had his mind made up, there was no further dissent.

Napoleon's invasion of Russia commenced on 24 June 1812 with the crossing of the Nieman River which acted as the border between Russia and Poland.  Napoleon had sent a final offer of peace to Saint Petersburg shortly before commencing operations.  He never received a reply, so he gave the order to proceed into Russian Poland.

This began one of the most extraordinarily military campaigns in history. It certainly is one of the most heavily analyzed.  One reason for the intense study is all the unanswered questions. 

Napoleon never wrote any memoirs commenting on his inner thoughts, so diplomats and war strategists alike have tried to read his mind ever since.

Napoleon was still waging war with Spain.  Did he really want to take on two fights at once? 

Napoleon was taking a huge risk invading this vast foreign country so far from home.  Defending the supply lines would be tricky.  Furthermore, no matter how weak the military, it is never easy fighting desperate people defending their home soil and families. Finally, the attack seemed to have so little practical value.  Yet Napoleon never hesitated.  Most historians have concluded Napoleon's attack on Russia was more ego-driven.  Napoleon couldn't stand the thought that the Tsar was defying him. 

Another conclusion is that Napoleon based his decision on several factors that didn't pan out.  One, he assumed his army could live off the land just as it had in every other country it had attacked.  Two, he took Alexander to be a coward.  He expected Alexander would see his armies being destroyed and panic.  Alexander could never stomach all the destruction Napoleon's army was so famously capable of.  Napoleon fully expected Alexander to crumble at the first major military loss and come rushing to the bargaining table. 

Misjudging the Tsar was Napoleon's biggest mistake.  Alexander wasn't always a practical man.  There was a side to him that said this coming battle was a struggle for the soul of mankind, good versus evil.  At some level, Alexander believed it was his sacred duty to God to stop Napoleon no matter what the cost... 

Refusing to be cowed by the appearance of the French army on his borders in 1812, Alexander showed remarkable strength of character.  Alexander famously spoke,

"If the Emperor Napoleon is determined on war and if fortune does not smile on our just cause, he will be forced to go to the end of the world to find peace." 

The Secrets of Napoleon's Success

Napoleon had an almost total disregard for the military power of Russia.

With a force estimated at half a million men, the Grande Armée marched confidently through Western Russia.  "Within a month we shall be in Moscow," announced Napoleon cheerfully. "Within six weeks, the Russians will sue for peace."

Napoleon initially met little resistance.  The French won a series of early engagements and moved quickly into the enemy's territory. Napoleon wanted to be in Moscow in one month.  He might get there sooner at this rate.  Some of his generals had completely disagreed with his decision to enter Russia, but Napoleon wasn't worried.  For many years now he had beaten far more formidable armies than the disorganized Russians.  Napoleon had won these battles through superior military strategy.

It had all started with a brilliant new philosophy - speed and maneuverability.

Napoleon got his start by asking this question - how could he command such a large group of people but still retain the flexibility that he had with his smaller artillery units?

He took the controversial approach of radically decentralizing his command. He broke the army up into smaller divisions of men commanded by field marshals. These marshals had nearly complete autonomy as long as they followed the strategic objectives outlined by Napoleon. The marshals had permission to react to problems instantly.

Napoleon also introduced a technical innovation into his army - the backpack. All of his soldiers carried 60 pound packs that provided them with enough food and water for a week. They were taught to live off the land by hunting and foraging. This freed the soldiers from the slow supply caravans and allowed them to remain independent for long periods of time.

With smaller forces that did not need to be connected to the supply lines, Napoleon was able to invent a new kind of fighting - maneuver warfare.

While most European generals were trained to develop complicated battle plans in advance, Napoleon believed this was a waste of time because no one could possibly predict every action of the enemy in advance. 

There was too much uncertainty inherent in every battle situation.  Victory depended on the ability to react quickly to changing situations. By trusting
all decisions to be made by the commanders who had the best perspective on the field, Napoleon gained a huge advantage over his competitors. 

Entering Russia, Napoleon had never lost a major campaign.

Napoleon's Confidence

Now that he was in Russia, Napoleon was impressed with himself.

He had undertaken the greatest attack of his career - a 600 mile trip across hostile, barren territory to Moscow.  It had never been done before.  The Mongol Horde had skipped Moscow because it was too far out of their way.  "Moscow is an outpost on the very distant edge of civilization," Napoleon chuckled, "that is, assuming Russia could be called a civilization."

Napoleon was fascinated by the story of Charles XII of Sweden who had failed miserably one hundred years earlier in 1709 in his attempt to take Moscow.  At every opportunity, Napoleon amused himself by reading about Charles XII's foolish invasion of Russia in pursuit of Peter the Great.  Charles had ultimately been beaten by Peter the Great's scorched earth strategy and guerilla warfare.

Napoleon paid attention. He was well aware that he too was facing supply issues.  After all, he himself had once said, ‘An army travels on its stomach.’  By this, he meant that the problem of keeping an army supplied is a prerequisite for the very existence of the force.  Napoleon had taken extra precautions to make sure his supply lines were intact.

As Napoleon memorized every minute detail - geography, topography, history, population, weather - it never seemed to dawn on him that the same fate that Charles had faced might await his army as well. 

Closer and closer to Moscow they come...


Scorched Earth Strategy


Barclay de Tolly

The Russians were under the command of Barclay de Tolly.  Barclay was a foreigner. He grew up speaking German in Livonia (modern day Estonia).  Barclay had been a member of the Russian Military since 1776 at the age of 15.  Rising through the ranks, he achieved great notoriety by taking Finland from Sweden in 1809 thanks to some brilliant maneuvers in a snowstorm.  That success earned him a promotion to Commander of the entire Russian army.

Barclay had spent his entire career studying Napoleon. Barclay had faced the military genius in battle several times as commander of smaller units.  After the inevitable defeats, Barclay would try to figure out what had gone wrong. As Barclay watched the European generals lose one battle after another to this great disrupter, he looked for weaknesses he could exploit. 

As a member of the Russian military, Barclay was quite familiar with the scorched earth strategy Peter the Great had used to defeat Sweden's King Charles.  Could this work against Napoleon?

Barclay noted the similarities of the two situations.  Both Charles and Napoleon had vastly superior armies.  Both Charles and Napoleon were very far from home.

Seeing the Russians stood little chance of winning a head-to-head war, Barclay proposed the now famous Russian scorched earth strategy against Napoleon. The Grande Armée was so large it could practically form a ring around the Russian army.  Only a fool would engage such a vast force directly.  Let the Russians constantly retreat.  By drawing the enemy deep into Russian territory all the while burning crops to deprive them of food and disrupting their supply lines, perhaps the Russians could starve the massive army to death.

The lead Russian command consisted of Tsar Alexander, Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly, Prince Pyotr Bagration and General Mikhail Kutuzov.  These men talked it over.  They all shook their heads in consternation.  No one was quite sure Barclay's weird strategy would work.  No one liked it, that's for sure.  It went against human nature which of course is to resist force with force.

However, Barclay had done his homework.  He pointed out Napoleon's tendency to march way ahead of the supply lines.  He reminded them this strategy had worked against Charles. 

For good measure, he reminded the men that to engage the enemy directly would give the French a chance at a knock-out blow.  It was better to let them chase the Russian army across Russia and try to slowly starve them to death.

Still the other generals balked.  Fortunately, Barclay had an ally.  Karl Ludwig von Phull was a German military strategist hired by Alexander himself.  Alexander had confidence in this man.  When von Phull wholeheartedly endorsed Barclay's plan, the die was cast.  Barclay got permission to try his risky strategy. 

Now as the giant French army approached, Barclay played cat and mouse.  He would let the French get close, let the Cossacks conduct surprise raids to slow down the approach, then retreat.  Along the way he would set his men to burn crops, burn homes, and always retreat rather than to risk a major battle. 

It wasn't easy. The Russian soldiers watched in horror as vast throngs of peasants lost their homes and their food.  Some peasants joined a huge migration to the east; others chose to hide in the forests and let the French pass by.  Homeless, exposed to the cold and without food, the death toll rose.  The soldiers could barely stand the guilt as their countrymen stared at them in hopeless confusion while they destroyed crop after crop.  These people were doomed.

This strategy revolted the Russian generals as well.  It might make sense on paper, but it was painful to watch.  This was Russian soil that this foreigner Barclay was so blithely ceding to the French.  Furthermore, Napoleon's men weren't the only ones suffering.  Watching the Russian peasants starve to death right in front of their eyes grated deeply on Russian sentiments. 

Watching Napoleon move deeper into Russian without opposition was equally terrifying.  What kind of defense was this? Why not stand up and fight like men?

Barclay was a very unpopular commander.  No one trusted Barclay enough to agree this was the right approach.  His rival officers spread rumors that he was secretly an agent of Napoleon. The Russians had been keenly opposed the appointment of a foreigner as commander-in-chief in the first place.  The terrified populace condemned Barclay as a coward.  Now, behind his back, the other Russian generals seemed to agree.

Barclay refused to be bullied into fighting Napoleon.  He knew full well that to engage Napoleon in an open battle like the disaster at Austerlitz was to play right into Napoleon's strong point.  The quick maneuvers of the French in the open field would surely doom the untrained Russian army to a devastating defeat. 

The other generals weren't the only ones who were worried.  Tsar Alexander was panic stricken at the swift advance of the French. 


Barclay's chief critic was Pyotr Bagration, commander of a large Russian unit.  Bagration and Barclay bickered constantly over this passive defense.  Despite heated arguments, Barclay refused to fight despite Bagration's urgings.

Finally Bagration couldn't take it any more.  Whether it was conflicting orders or a breakdown in communication, no one is certain, but Bagration basically disobeyed orders. 

Anticipating a French movement, Bagration raced to defend Smolensk to the south. When Alexander learned of this decision, he took Bagration's side.  After watching the torture of the Russian retreat for two months, Alexander couldn't take it any more.  He ordered Barclay to go and reinforce Bagration.

Given no choice, Barclay joined his rival to engage Napoleon at Smolensk On August 16, French forces found the city heavily garrisoned by Bagration's troops, further reinforced with the subsequent arrival of Barclay and the main Russian army.

It took three days, but in the end Napoleon won handily. He forced Barclay to retreat when he threatened Barclay's only escape route.  

For some reason, the ignominious defeat was pinned on the unpopular Barclay.  The scorched earth policy had created a deep well of resentment.  Now the loss of the Holy City of Smolensk brought the anger to a boil. The outcry of officers and civilians against Barclay grew to a point where the Tsar could no longer ignore it.

Noting that Bagration hadn't helped matters with his disobedience, Alexander had only one other choice - Kutuzov, the old man.

Alexander appointed Mikhail Kutuzov as the over-all commander of the Russian Forces. Barclay remained on staff as General of the 1st Army of the West. 

Inwardly, Alexander shuddered. He personally disliked Kutuzov.  Alexander was not only repulsed by Kutuzov’s grossly fat physique, he still irrationally held him responsible for the stinging defeat at Austerlitz five years earlier at the hands of Napoleon.

Alexander didn't have much confidence in the man, but Kutuzov was a popular choice with the men on several accounts.  They liked that Kutuzov was Russian-born.  Kutuzov had been around forever.  He went all back to the glory days of Alexander Suvarov, the legendary commander in the days of Catherine the Great who had never lost a single battle.

Alexander shrugged.  Kutuzov was the veteran of many campaigns.  Most recently he had put a swift end to a Turkish struggle that had seemingly gone on forever. Kutuzov was definitely experienced.  Maybe fat Kutuzov would surprise him.

Slow Death

No one in Russia would have ever guessed it at the time, but Napoleon's victory at Smolensk was the beginning of the end. 

To save the army, Barclay de Tolly abandoned the city destroying all ammunition stores and bridges.  Leaving a small force behind to cover his retreat, Barclay ordered the unthinkable - he gave orders to burn the city.

By nightfall, most of the city was burning.

Napoleon was aghast. The Assumption Cathedral in Smolensk was home to one of the most venerated icons of the Orthodox Church - Our Lady of Smolensk attributed to St LukeNapoleon assumed that the Russians would fight outside the city to avoid its destruction.  Now this ancient holy place was in flames never to be seen again.

Napoleon viewed the burning city with growing concern. What kind of people was he dealing with?

This was not a new feeling.  For some time now, Napoleon had dealt with the gnawing feeling that these Russians were crazy.  They would destroy anything to keep his army from eating.  They were sacrificing their own people in the process, but that didn't stop them.  Napoleon shuddered.  He understood the civilized people of Europe, but these people still had a touch of Oriental barbarism.  They were a strange people indeed.

Technically the battle of Smolensk was a victory for Napoleon as he captured the city. However his soldiers were already running short of food and its destruction denied him access to food within the city.  It also deprived him of a useful supply base, adding to the logistics problems caused by the Russian scorched earth tactics.  Seeing Smolensk burn to the ground was a bad omen. 

Everything Starts to Go Wrong

Many of the Napoleon's usual methods of operation worked against him.  It was only August, but it was already starting to snow.  The lack of winter horse shoes made it impossible for the horses to obtain traction on snow.  With the horses hampered, the forced marches often made troops do without supplies as the supply wagons struggled to keep up.

The lack of food and water in the thinly populated, agriculturally-ruined regions now led to the first cases of death by starvation in the French army.  It wasn't the men who died, but rather the horses.  The snows made food for the horses difficult to find.  Both men and their mounts were exposed to waterborne diseases from drinking from mud puddles and eating rotten food and forage.

The loss of the horses make it harder to keep the supply wagons moving.  People assume that Napoleon was completely ignorant to the supply problem, but that was not the case.  Napoleon had in fact made extensive preparations providing for the provisioning of his army. Seventeen train battalions, comprising 6000 vehicles, were to provide a 40-day supply for the Grande Armée and its operations.  A large system of magazines was established in towns and cities in Poland and East Prussia stretching to the border of Russia.

What most people don't realize is that Napoleon never expected to go all the way to Moscow. Napoleon's plan was simply to enter Russia, beat the pants off the Russian army in the first engagement, and let Alexander come crying to his tent begging for peace and forgiveness.

Therefore these preparations would have sufficed.  What Napoleon did not anticipate was the refusal of the Russians to defend their country. That surprised him... and angered him.  He fell for the bait.  The retreat of the Russian armies continued to lure the Grand Armée ever deeper into Russia. 

Now the French learned the hard way that Russia had a poor infrastructure.  Unlike the well-kept roads of Europe, Russia's roads were pitiful dirt paths.

The men, wagons and horses were forced to travel narrow dirt roads that would dissolve into deep mires with every rain. 

The ruts in the mud caused untold problems, tripping already exhausted horses and snapping wagon wheels.

The cold temperatures and lack of available resources continued to take their toll. Napoleon had planned on scavenging for supplies to support his massive army, but the Russians had destroyed all of their crops.

As a result, the army was heavily reliant on slow supply trains from Europe that were unable to keep pace with its quick advance. Common sense had suggested taking this massive army into Russia worked to his advantage, but now there were too many mouths to feed.  First it had been the horses, but now some of the men began to die from starvation and exposure

Napoleon grimly noted he had lost more men to hunger than battle.  Nothing was working as planned. 

Then Napoleon got more bad news.  His attack on Saint Petersburg had just failed. Russia was a two-headed monster.  It had a political capital in Saint Petersburg and a cultural capital in Moscow.  From the start Napoleon wasn't sure which target made more sense to attack.  Moscow was his preference, but to cover his bet he sent part of his army towards St. Petersburg.

In a separate battle on the same day as Smolensk, the right wing of the Russian Army, under the command of General Peter Wittgenstein, stopped a wing of the French Army in the Battle of Polotsk.  This prevented the French marching on the Russian capital at Saint Petersburg.  Napoleon frowned.  Had Saint Petersburg fallen, the war might have been over right there.

Now the fate of the war had to be decided on the Moscow front.  Napoleon had a tough decision to make.  His troops were hungry.  That damn Barclay was making things miserable.  Barclay was leading the French on a wild goose chase through barren land.  Barclay was burning crops.  Barclay was burning bridges and forcing delays.  Napoleon cursed.  It seemed like the army faced another major river every other day.  Each day lost building pontoons meant another day of hunger. 

But the worst news of all was that the Russians were now raiding his supply trains from the rear.  His army was so far extended into Russia that the Cossacks had found weak links far behind the main body of men.  The harassment of the smaller forces left behind to defend his supply lines meant further delays in getting new supplies.

Napoleon cursed at the knowledge that those damn Cossacks were dining well on his army's food supplies.  Those Cossack raids were making life miserable.

Should Napoleon retreat or move forward?  Napoleon took a long breath.  One part of him wanted to cut his losses and head home.  He had two objections.  First, he knew the lands behind him held no food.  A retreat meant a month of marching through land that could not feed him.  Second, this would be seen as a humiliating defeat in eyes of Europe.  Every country currently cowering under the threat of French invasion would be tempted to rise up against him if he turned back now.  

Moscow was only 230 miles away.  At the usual pace of his nimble army, he could be there in two to four weeks.  There in Moscow he would find the food and shelter his army needed.  Moscow was the most populated and important city in Russia.  There could be no doubt the Tsar would beg him to spare Moscow and surrender unconditionally.  The conquest of Moscow would guarantee that his reputation would stay intact. 

Knowing Napoleon, there could be no doubt which choice he would take.  Napoleon was a gambler at heart who liked to bet on himself.


The Road to Moscow

It was now late August, two months since Napoleon had entered Russia. Napoleon had expected to take Russia in a month; he was already a month behind schedule with no end in sight. 

Napoleon fumed.  The roads were in such terrible shape that progress was molasses.  Plus it left his men sitting ducks to raids.  Unable to move with any speed, the Cossacks, gypsy warriors on fast horses, continued their guerilla-style attacks on the French flanks and rear. 

Alexander was rallying the people.  Napoleon's invasion had accomplished a miracle - for the first time in history, the Russian people were united. 

Cries of "Victory or Death" resounded throughout the country.  From every corner of the vast nation, patriotic volunteers trudged towards Moscow to swell the ranks of Kutuzov's ragtag army. 

Russia was preparing to make it's defense of Moscow.

Bloody Borodino

Kutuzov had been quietly in favor of Barclay's scorched earth tactics all along, but kept that to himself.  He knew better than to incur the same wrath by letting it be known.  He too continued to retreat.  However, as the French grew closer to Moscow, Alexander ordered Kutuzov to take a stand.  Scorched earth tactics and constant retreat be damned.  Alexander would not give up Moscow without a fight.

The fight took place three weeks after Smolensk. Kutuzov decided to make his stand in a series of rolling hills 70 miles west of Moscow. 

The two giant armies clashed at Borodino on 7 September 1812The battle involved a quarter of a million soldiers.  It was the greatest battle in human history at the time.

Napoleon was surprised to meet a force almost as large as his own.  The Russian spirit had suddenly come to life! Countless Russians had come forward to volunteer to fight. Many of them carried little more than pitchforks, but they were ready to die if that's what it took to defend Moscow. 

And die they did. At the conclusion, the battlefield was covered with the bodies of nearly 100,000 men.  Even the battle-hardened Generals were shaken. It was difficult for them to comprehend this massive loss of life.

One-third of the French army and half of the Russian army were killed or wounded in the long hours of fierce hand to hand fighting.

As horrible as it sounds, oddly enough, these massive losses favored the Russians. They could replace the fallen soldiers; the French could not.  The relative strength of the two armies was getting closer.

Missed Opportunity

This had been exactly the chance Napoleon had been waiting for.  He typically routed his opponents in these open field battles, but not today.  The battle was a stand off at best. 

Napoleon had been astonished by the bravery of the Russians.  Defending their homeland, the untrained and poorly armed Russian army had fought with a ferocity that won Napoleon's grudging approval.  These were the same people Napoleon had once described as "ignorant, apathetic and blind".  Not today.  Today the Russian soldiers had put up one hell of a fight.

"The most terrible of all my battles was the one before Moscow. The French showed themselves to be worthy of victory, but the Russians showed themselves worthy of being invincible."

At the end of the day, the French held the field, but Napoleon didn't feel victorious.  He was actually dazed himself.  Perhaps that explains why Napoleon had been uncharacteristically cautious at this battle.  He had missed the perfect opportunity to cripple the enemy. 

The battle ended with the Russian Army badly out of position.  Their men had fought with amazing courage, but as usual the tactical skill of the French had out-maneuvered them. At the very end of the day, the Russian lines broke and the men ran.

Ordinarily Napoleon would have seized this chance to begin the forced pursuit that had marked the campaigns he had conducted in the past.  However the state of exhaustion of the French forces made Napoleon hesitate to send them in pursuit. 

However, he had another option.  Napoleon's vaunted Imperial Guard was rested and available.  Here Napoleon hesitated as well.  He was unsure of the Russian Army's position.  Napoleon worried he might be sending his most valuable men into a trap.

Normally Napoleon never hesitated to take a chance if the stakes were important.  But today he blinked.  By refusing to set loose his elite fighting force, Napoleon lost his singular chance to destroy the Russian army.  

Napoleon did not know it, but this had been his last chance to save his army. Napoleon was very grim after this battle.  The Russian army had escaped. It would live to fight another day. 

Meanwhile, although the French had failed to deliver a fatal knockout punch, the Russians were despondent.  They had failed in their holy mission to defend Moscow.

At the end of the day, thousands were dead and no one was happy.  Such is the nature of warfare. 

In the Russian camp, Kutuzov knew his army had been lucky to escape. 

Kutuzov understood why Alexander had ordered him to fight, but he also knew that it had been a great risk.  Very few armies had ever survived a head to head, open field battle with the French.   

Although his troops were miserable at their failure to stop Napoleon, Kutuzov was proud of them.  They had given the superior French force quite a beating.  Very few soldiers could ever make that claim.

However, now it was obvious to Kutuzov the Russians did not have the strength to prevent the French from marching onto Moscow. 

The city was only 70 miles away.  The Russians could not regroup in time to find an adequate defensive position.

The only other possibility was a last-ditch effort at the walls of Moscow.  However there were no defensive positions prepared. Kutuzov worried that Alexander would panic and order a hopeless battle.  Kutuzov shook his head in disapproval.  No point in losing lives needlessly.

This defense would not only likely fail, but it held the real danger of trapping the Russian army with no escape route.

After a conference at the village of Fili, Kutuzov fell back on the strategy of his predecessor Barclay: Withdraw in order to save the Russian army as long as possible. 

It wasn't an easy decision.  It came at the stiff price of losing Moscow to the hated enemy.  The Russians had failed.  Morale was at an all-time low.

Napoleon realized the path to Moscow was now unblocked.  One week later,
Napoleon rode to the Poklonnaya Hill about 2 miles from Moscow.  There he stopped and appreciated the splendid view.

He saw Moscow with the numerous domes of churches glaring in the bright sun and crowned by the fantastic Kremlin, majestic in its unique beauty. This ancient capital of Russia had never been conquered.  That was about to end.  

After all the death and suffering, the moment Napoleon and his marshals had been waiting for such a long time had finally come.  The men were excited.  At last!

It had been a costly campaign.  They had crossed the Nieman River three months earlier with 600,000 men.  Now their numbers had dwindled to half that total thanks to bloody Borodino, Cossack raids and the merciless starvation strategy.

Napoleon wasn't at all happy about the huge losses.  Nevertheless he quietly congratulated himself.  His brave gamble at Smolensk a month earlier had paid off.  As he prepared to take possession of the spiritual capital of Russia, surely now the end was in his grasp.

Napoleon Enters Moscow

On September 14 at 2 pm Napoleon rode to the Dorogomilovskaya gate and stopped.  He was sure the gates would open and he would be met with a deputation from Moscow entreating him to spare their city. 

Nobody came out to greet him.  This was odd.  Ordinarily a delegation would greet them and offer proper housing and food.  They would fall at his feet and pray that he would not hurt anyone or destroy their city.  But not this time. 

Napoleon was secretly disappointed by the lack of custom. He felt it robbed him of a traditional victory over the Russians after taking this historically significant city.  Who could possibly understand these uncivilized Russians?

Napoleon hesitated.  Fearing it was a trap like the Trojan Horse,
Napoleon ordered men to go inside and look around.  After some time the officers rode back and reported Moscow was empty. 

Napoleon was aghast.  "Moscow deserted?" Napoleon shouted. "Impossible!  Go find where those coward boyars are hiding and bring them to me!"

But there were no boyars. All that was left were a handful of lunatics and criminals who had been freed from asylums and jails by the retreating Russians. They roamed freely through the streets along with a handful of wretched poor people who had lingered behind in search of valuables.

Napoleon gave the order that the men were free to explore the city and look for food.  This was the start of a day of joyful plundering.  The people of Moscow had taken what they could carry, but many riches had been left behind.  Even better, they found enough food left behind in the homes to finally enjoy a decent meal.

Napoleon could have cared less that his men were celebrating.  He was deeply
disturbed by this latest development.  The hunger of his troops caused by the fanatical scorched-earth strategy of the Russians had unnerved him.  Now this deserted ghost town had left him baffled.  What exactly was the Russian strategy trying to accomplish?   If this was Paris, blood would be flowing in the streets as the French fought dearly for every niche and corner.  Who hands over their most important city without a struggle?   

Napoleon shrugged.  More than likely Alexander's representatives would come to town the next day bringing the peace offer.  Still, there was something definitely eerie about this empty city.

The following day, Napoleon himself decided to enter.  He wandered around aimlessly.  Sure enough, all but a few thousand of the city's 275,000 people were gone. Moscow had been turned into a ghost town.  Napoleon rolled his eyes.  What were these crazy Russians thinking? 

His first orders were to to restore discipline.  After 24 hours of plundering Moscow, it was time for the troops to settle down.

His headquarters were in the Kremlin. Napoleon knew what the Kremlin meant for Russians. For several hours the emperor was happy and proud - he was in Moscow, in the Kremlin, in the palace of the tsars!  He thought that the aim of the campaign was achieved.  Here in the magnificent Kremlin, he would soon sign a peace treaty with the Russian Emperor on his own conditions.  Napoleon was satisfied at last.

The Burning of Moscow

Napoleon retired to a house on the outskirts of the city for the night, but two hours after midnight he was awakened.  Duroc and Caulaincourt, his aides, informed him that a fire had broken out in the city. 

As Napoleon rushed to his window, more men brought in strange reports telling of Russians starting the fires and stoking the flames.

Alarmed, Napoleon went back into town to the Kremlin.  From a safe distance, he watched the flames continue to grow.  He exclaimed, "What savages! To annoy me they burn their own history, the works of centuries!"

Moscow was built completely of wood taken from the nearby forests.  The fire took hold quickly. The brisk wind raised huge tongues of flame to the sky.

Burning buildings crackled, then tumbled in great protest to the ground.  Shafts of sparks fell throughout the city like rain.  Unchecked, this fire threatened to destroy this entire ancient Russian holy place.  But there was little the French could do to stop the inferno. All the efforts to put out the fire were without any results.  The heat forced the soldiers to retreat.

All they could do was watch.  The horror of fire overwhelmed the French.  This was so senseless.  All those beautiful buildings being destroyed!  Against the firelit background, the men could see the smoky silhouettes of Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin and the domes of the St. Basil Cathedral.

Something was on fire on the Red Square.  And behind the St. Basil Cathedral the view looked like a huge terrible bloody curtain from the ground to the sky.  The Zamoskvorechie, a Moscow suburb, was completely on fire.

Napoleon shook his head in continued disbelief.  He was hypnotized. Rich mansions with invaluable works of arts and exquisite churches perished. "These Russians are barbarians!  To burn one's city is insanity. They conduct this bizarre war of extermination. A demon must possess these people!"

Suddenly a fire broke out within the Kremlin itself.  A Russian military policeman turned arsonist was caught and immediately executed.

With the firestorm spreading in the Kremlin, Napoleon could see they needed to leave quickly or face real danger.  They left the Kremlin and went on foot to Arbat Street.  From there Napoleon and his entourage were forced to flee down burning streets back towards Moscow's outskirts

The burning streets turned Moscow into something like a labyrinth of fire.  The French took a wrong turn.  As they retraced their steps, they realized one more mistake like that and they could easily get lost and perish there.

Now the heat grew so intense they had trouble breathing.  The group of men began to run for their lives and narrowly avoided being asphyxiated.  

From the outskirts of the city, they took a vantage point that allowed them to safely watch the city burn.  Napoleon wondered if Alexander had a similar vantage point not too far way.

By the time the flames died down three days later, more than two-thirds of the city was destroyed.

Who Ordered Moscow to Burn?

There is controversy as to who burned Moscow and why. 

Leo Tolstoy, in his classic novel War and Peace, suggested that the fire was not deliberately set Tolstoy believed it was all an accident. Tolstoy blamed careless French soldiers.  

Tolstoy's theory made sense.  Considering how cold the soldiers were, they surely made bonfires in a desperate attempt to escape the bitter Russian winter cold.  Perhaps one unit allowed their fire to get out of control and didn't have an effective way to stop the burning from spreading.

Contradicting Tolstoy's theory, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence to suggest Count Rostopchin, the mayor of Moscow, gave orders to have the Kremlin and major public buildings blown up and set on fire.

Supposedly Rostopchin had pleaded with Kutuzov to make a last-ditch stand at the walls of Moscow.  However Kutuzov thought the battle could backfire and demurred.

Crushed, Rostopchin then decided the scorched earth policy should be invoked.  He made preparations to have anything that might have value for the French - food stores, granaries, warehouses, and cloth stores - to be torched once the city was evacuated by the Russians.  According to the mayor, his men waited till night, then set fire to the city.

There's only one problem.  Rostopchin himself denied giving this order and Rostopchin's alleged role in the burning has never been completely confirmed. 

The best case against Rostopchin rests with the memoirs of General Armand de Caulaincourt, Napoleon's aide de camp.  Caulaincourt's famous memoir, "With Napoleon in Russia" was lost for years and finally unearthed after World War I. It was finally published for the first time in 1933.  Here is the account as it appears in Wikipedia.

Caulaincourt, Napoleon's aide de camp, stated that they had been in Moscow for three days.  That evening a small fire had broken out but was extinguished and 'attributed to the carelessness of the troops'. Later that evening Coulaincourt was woken by his valet with the news that 'for three quarters of an hour the city has been in flames'.  Fires continued to break out in multiple separate points.

Incendiarists were arrested and interrogated and declared that their commanding officer had ordered them to burn everything. 'Houses had been designated to this end.' Later on in the same chapter he asserts 'The existence of inflammable fuses, all made in the same fashion and placed in different public and private buildings, is a fact of which I, as many others, had personal evidence. I saw the fuses on the spot and many were taken to the Emperor.'

He goes on to write 'The examination of the police rank-and-file… all proved that the fire had been prepared and executed by order of Count Rostopchin'.

Note that Coulaincourt's memoirs did not even appear till 1933, 121 years after Moscow burned.  Rostopchin was blamed for his role in the fire right from the start by a lot more people than Napoleon's aide de camp. 

Mayor Rostopchin was hated in Russia because everyone in the country believed he was responsible for burning the city.  However, it is important to note that Mayor Rostopchin spent the rest of his life denying his role. 

Here is history's best guess.  Common sense points to deliberate sabotage by the Russians.  As Caulaincourt pointed out, "Fires continued to break out in multiple separate points".  That suggests several men acting in unison.  This explains why the Russians were suspicious of Rostopchin. 

Certainly Tsar Alexander didn't order the burning.  He is said to have wept bitterly at the news.  There is no record that Kutuzov ordered it either.  If anyone actually did order the burning, it was probably Rostopchin.  No one else had the authority.

It is said that Rostopchin was treated bitterly throughout the rest of his life for his role in setting the fire.  This makes no sense. 

Yes, the burning of Moscow was a supreme sacrifice, but it was a brilliant sacrifice nonetheless.  The burning of Moscow placed Napoleon in a serious predicament that led directly to his humiliating Winter Retreat.  The burning of Moscow had transformed the city from a precious bargaining chip into a trap that would soon vanquish the monster.

Considering the outcome, you would assume the person who ordered the fire would go down in history as one of Mother Russia's greatest heroes. 

We may never know whether the Moscow fire was deliberate or accidental, but no one can deny its effect on the French army was absolutely crippling.  Whether anyone in the French Army knew it or not, from this point on they were all doomed.


The Grim Reaper Comes Calling

Moscow had been the best chance for the soldiers to find provisions. Now it was gone. After the fire, not even a crumb of bread was left.  The fire had removed any chance of finding food.

The fire left enough buildings left to provide shelter.  But it was cold.  The Russian winter was setting in and it was no ordinary winter.  By some cruel fate, it was the worst winter of the century. 

How strange it was that whenever somebody invaded Russia, the winter that particular year was especially savage. 

The mystics claim that in Russia, the Gods of the Russian winter exact their own revenge on invaders.  Perhaps it was these same Gods who burned Moscow...

Apparently these terrible winters had happened before.  During the  invasions of Swedes and Germans, the winter was also very savage. There was a story of the 6000 Swedes who died overnight frozen right in their saddles during 17th century.

Now the Russian Winter enveloped the French Army.  The bitter cold caused intense suffering. There was absolutely nothing to eat.  Meanwhile Cossack raids 300 miles away prevented new provisions to be delivered to the troops from supply trains.  The French were even getting low on ammunition. 

Kutuzov's patrols prevented the French from foraging. Every time the French ventured too far from the walls, a Cossack patrol or snipers were sure to inflict casualties.  The French were caught in a death trap.

No food, no gun powder, no shelter, no wine... nothing.  The soldiers started eating dogs, rats and cats.  Then they moved on to the horses. Thanks to the dark magic of Russian winter, the Grim Reaper set up permanent shop in the French encampment. 

Le Grand Trap

In chess, there is a move known as a "Sacrifice".  What you do is give up a valuable piece in order to put your opponent in a tougher position.  The loss of Moscow was the ultimate sacrifice.  And yet it was the perfect sacrifice.

Napoleon had taken Moscow for two reasons.  One, to find food.  Two, to use Moscow as a bargaining chip to force Alexander to negotiate.  Now, suddenly Napoleon had neither.  His men couldn't eat and he couldn't hold Moscow hostage because it was gone.

Moscow had been sacrificed to put Napoleon into the worst trap of his life. What was he going to do now?

Ask yourself this question. Would George Washington have been willing to burn down Boston to trap the redcoats and end the war?  If someone promised him it would guarantee a victory against the overwhelmingly superior English army, then probably yes. 

Losing Moscow must have hurt the Russians terribly, but it practically guaranteed victory. 

In fact, it was such a brilliant move that it is shame no one knows who to give the credit to.  Maybe Tolstoy was right; maybe the fire really was an accident.  After all, no ordinary human being had both the guts and the authority to do something this audacious. 

Are you a believer in mysticism?  Maybe the unseen Gods that manipulate Fate lit those fires.  If so, you might wonder if this was the horrible Karma of Napoleon catching up to him.  If anyone ever deserved a bad break, that would be Napoleon.

Strangely, Napoleon just sat there on the outskirts of Moscow for a month.  It was an awful time for him.  Most likely Napoleon spent all that time pondering how he had ever gotten into this mess and wondering if there was any way out.

No doubt Napoleon kicked himself for not turning back when he had the chance at Smolensk. Why did he ever decide to march to Moscow?Napoleon shook his head.  Until Moscow burned, this move had made sense.  When he had first entered Moscow, Napoleon had every right to expect a fervent plea for peace from Tsar Alexander I of Russia.  However, the burning of Moscow changed everything. 

What use is a hostage if the hostage dies? 

Napoleon had to admit that he had never seen this coming. This Moscow stunt took the cake.  Had his enemies had outfoxed him with that fire or did they just get lucky?  Who in their right mind burns their most important city? 

As Napoleon stared at the burned shell of Moscow, he asked himself again why he ever come to this hell hole in the first place.  The only effective benefit of capturing Moscow was to add the conquest of the center of Holy Russia to his resume.  But it had accomplished nothing but get a lot of his men killed.  Napoleon had not lost a single battle, but here he was a sitting duck.  This campaign was a complete failure if Alexander refused to come to the bargaining table.

But Alexander remained silent. Maybe Napoleon had underestimated Alexander. The old Alexander of Tilsit was fearful and easily manipulated. The old Alexander would have sued for peace after Borodino or the capture of Moscow.  But the new Alexander was someone who operated by some sort of extreme logic that made no sense to Napoleon. 

Napoleon's world was characterized by rulers who preferred to sign pieces of paper to end a conflict.  To avoid needless death and destruction, perfumed royalty simply traded territory with the stroke of a feather and ink. 

Not these Russians.  These Russians had defied all civilized logic of the day.  Certainly a leader might give up something small to gain freedom, but no one burns their capital to do it!!  That is too extreme, too big of a sacrifice.

Napoleon concluded it took the mind of a fanatic to burn a capital city.  This was a decision born of lunacy, not sound judgment.

Nor was it the work of a gentleman to burn his own crops, uproot his own people, devastate his own capital and refuse to do battle while the people of his country suffered and died.  This strategy was not the work of a gentleman, but rather the doings of a coward.  

Napoleon shook his head in disgust.  Not for the first time Napoleon wondered if it was the centuries of Mongol domination that had caused such insanity.  Someone had taught these people to think like barbarians! 

Even their leader had turned into a madman. 


As the days passed, no offer of peace appeared.  So Napoleon wrote a letter.  "My lord Brother Alexander. Beautiful, magical Moscow exists no more. How could you consign to destruction the loveliest city in the world, a city that has taken hundreds of years to build?"

Alexander replied with a short message. He said that the burning of Moscow had "illuminated his soul".  Alexander refused to negotiate with Napoleon.

As the days passed, Napoleon became increasingly desperate.  This was ridiculous!  By all conventions of war, his army had just taken Russia's capital city and conquered Russia!  Why did not Alexander beg him for peace? Did Alexander not understand how deadly his army still was?

Alexander was in no mood to negotiate.  Now that he had lost Moscow, he didn't care about anything.  Napoleon be damned.  Let him occupy Moscow just as long as wanted.  Napoleon was at best a prisoner in the same city he had conquered.  What more damage could Napoleon do to Russia now?

Alexander hated Napoleon with a burning passion.  Napoleon had played him for a fool at Tilset.  Let Napoleon burn in hell.

Alexander's silence drove Napoleon nuts.  The waiting was unbearable.  Napoleon had to do something.  At last he decided to ask for peace himself.  He ordered General Lauriston to go to the Russian headquarters and sue for peace.  As Lauriston departed, Napoleon is said to have shouted, "I need peace! Get it for me at all costs!"

Kutuzov received Lauriston, but shrugged his shoulders. "Your General has made war on my country without provocation. I owe him nothing. If he wants peace, tell him to leave my country and go home."

The Winter Retreat

Napoleon got the message.  There would be no mercy given.  Napoleon had gotten himself into this mess.  Now he would have to get out of it.

After waiting a month for the surrender that never came, Napoleon was forced to lead his starving army out of the ruined city.  He knew his men were in serious danger.  Napoleon had one hope.  If he could break through Kutuzov's blockade and head south to the Ukraine, he would probably be able to find food there and save his army.

The French left Moscow on October 19 in the dead of Winter.  The Russians knew the French were on the move.  Kutuzov sent a detachment to intercept.  A battle took place on October 24 at Maloyaroslavets. 

They intercepted the French and fierce fighting began.  During the course of the engagement the town changed hands no fewer than 8 times.  The French had 'fought like lions'.  As well they should.  Their backs were against the wall.  Their very survival depended on it.

Marshal Kutuzov arrived and decided against a pitched battle with the Grand Army the next day.  He preferred to retire instead to a well-prepared line of defense nearby at Kaluga.

The French casualties were about 5,000 killed, while the Russians lost 6,000.  But the French weren't celebrating.  As usual, the Russians had lost the battle, but continued to win the war. The French had won a tough victory on the day only to realize with sinking hearts that their preferred path to the Ukraine through Kaluga was far too well-defended. 

The French had a choice.  They could attempt a bitter, deadly fight against the firmly entrenched enemy at Kaluga or they could take another path that would not require a fight.

Napoleon chose the unopposed direction.  However, he knew full well what Kutuzov was doing.  Kutuzov had just forced Napoleon to retreat through Smolensk.  This meant retracing the same ravaged 600 mile route that he had taken to Moscow during the summer.  Napoleon had desperately hoped to avoid this route.  He knew full well there was not a single drop of food to be had in this direction. 

The Cold Cruel Russian Winter 

The Death March had begun.  

During the disastrous retreat, Napoleon's army suffered continual harassment from the merciless Russian army. 

The conditions were unbelievably harsh.  Shelter was rarely found. Stalked by subzero temperatures, hunger, and the deadly lances of the Cossacks, the decimated army limped along.

The agony the French suffered must have been unbearable.  Still, they had shown no mercy when they held the upper hand. 

There was certainly no reason for the Russians to behave any differently.

Throughout the Death March, the Russians never let up.  They inflicted further defeats on the Grande Armée at Vyazma, Krasnoi, and Polotsk. 

The French were so low on supplies they were afraid to shoot back unless they had someone directly in their gunsight.

You can't imagine it could possibly get worse, but it did.  Disease struck the army.  Soldiers began to desert for fear of getting sick.  The Cossacks on horseback would see their tracks in the snow, track them down and execute them. 

Horses died right and left.  They became instant meals.  Sometimes the men ate horsemeat raw if they were hungry enough.

The cruel Gods of the Russian Winter had one more horrible trick up their sleeve.  When the Retreat began, it was too cold at first. The French endured a bone-chilling frost that few had experienced before.  The cold was utterly agonizing. The temperatures were known to drop to 20 degrees below zero.

First to die were the weak.  Too exhausted to walk, they collapsed and died.  As the little food supplies they had ran out, the strong got weaker and they too began to die. 

Men would just drop all day long.  Their corpses lined the road.  The bodies stayed right where they fell until spring.

Once again the weather played another evil trick.  Impossibly, this time it got even colder than before.  One bitter night a thousand men were said to have died in their sleep overcome by exhaustion, exposure and misery.

But then the weather mysteriously changed. There was a warm spell which thawed the frozen roads — slowing down the march even more. It was actually easier to travel on the roads in winter because the surface was hard.  Now that the snow melted, the heavily rutted roads became quagmires of mud.  Every problem the French had encountered on the way to Moscow they had to face again on the retreat.

Streams that were once frozen and easy to cross became difficult to cross. If the waters had to be waded, imagine how cold and miserable the men were in their wet clothes after crossing.  Men died simply from crossing a stream.  Unable to dry off, they began to shiver in the unrelenting cold so hard they couldn't even continue walking.   

Berezina River

All the bridges had been destroyed the previous summer.  The warming trend meant rivers that could have been crossed on ice now needed bridges. 

One such river was the Berezina.

The Berezina River was not far from the border with French-occupied Lithuania.  The Berezina was the last river the French had to cross to get to safety.

Napoleon's plan was to cross the river and head for Poland. The Russians thought otherwise.  This was a great spot to trap his army and destroy it.

The recent thaw worked greatly to the Russian's advantage.  The warm weather ruined Napoleon's original plan to cross the frozen river while it was iced over.

In late November, Napoleon's engineers did their best to create a temporary crossing at
the Berezina.  Over a four day period, Napoleon struggled to get his men across.

Then the Russians showed up.  The soldiers waiting to cross panicked when they were attacked by the Russians.  In their desperate attempt to cross the bridge, it broke.  Many tried to wade cross the semi-frozen river only to die of frostbite later.

The rear guard suffered terrible losses trying to provide cover for the desperate men.  An estimated 25,000 soldiers died or were captured.  It was a crushing final blow. 

Since then "Bérézina" has become used in French as a synonym for "disaster".  Or "catastrophe" if you prefer.

It was over.  Napoleon's Winter Death March had come to its final bitter conclusion.


The Death Toll

By the time the army crossed into Poland in early December, somewhere between 95,000 and 110,000 exhausted, tattered soldiers were all that remained of the 600,000 proud soldiers who had crossed the Nieman River five months before. 

Out of those 100,000 men who managed to cross the Berezina River in November, only 27,000 of those soldiers were still fit to fight.

380,000 men were dead or missing and 100,000 were captured.

All told, the French lost about 400,000 men with most casualties occurring on the way home.  The Russians lost 200,000.  Of course, that doesn't include the massive loss of life among the Russian civilians.

Please keep in mind that all these numbers are just someone's best guess.  Records were very imprecise back in those days.

One of the curiosities of the Russian Campaign is that Napoleon's invasion of Russia marked one of the few times when he had actually attacked with a larger force.  Napoleon had won most of his previous famous victories despite being outnumbered.

Charles Joseph Minard was a French civil engineer in the 1800s. He drew up a fascinating chart which depicted the massive loss of French lives in a very unusual way.  If you can bear to look, Minard expressed the French losses by using a narrowing line. 


Napoleon's Comeback

Readers who are unfamiliar with the saga of Napoleon will be shocked to discover that the Corsican gangster would continue to wreak death and destruction across Europe for three more years.

For an ordinary person, Russia should have been the final straw.  Out of an original force of 600,000, only 110,000 frost-bitten and half starved survivors stumbled back across the European continent into France.

Sad to say, the devastating licking Napoleon took from the Russians was only the first stake in the heart of the vampire.  

His army was shattered and morale was pitiful, but Napoleon still breathed.  Despite the Russian's best efforts, Napoleon was not killed or captured in the retreat.  He lived to fight another day.

Napoleon had foreseen what the loss in Russia would mean to his reputation, so he fled back to France quickly before word of the disaster became widespread.  This clever ploy allowed him to raise another army.  Communications were so slow in those days that Napoleon had weeks to operate before the story of Russia caught up to him.

After the humiliation suffered by Napoleon at the hands of Russians, one would expect a person of pride to withdraw somewhere and lick his wounds.  Not Napoleon.  He got right back to the business of waging war. To the unpleasant surprise of all Europe, Napoleon soon rose from the dead thanks to his quick return to France. 

Say what you will about Napoleon, but there can be no doubt he inspired fierce loyalty.  There were men who would follow him to very gates of Hell... and probably did.

Was the amazing Russian upset victory just a nasty bump in the road for Napoleon?  Hardly. Napoleon's defeat in Russia proved to be the decisive turning point of the Napoleonic WarsThe Russian campaign may not have finished Napoleon off, but it emboldened the rest of subjugated Europe to rise as one and take a stand.

Now that Napoleon was back from the dead, he frowned when he discovered the mood had changed in Europe.  The other countries had all grown a backbone.  If Russia could do it, maybe they could too.

A good example of the new order of things was Austria.  Once a great empire in its own right, Austria had been decimated by Napoleon's occupation starting with the Battle of Austerlitz in 1807.  Metternich, Austria's famous statesman, had no choice but to seek detente with France. 

On the eve of Napoleon's advance into Russia, Metternich was forced to choose sides. His heart was with Russia, but his practical side was with France.  Austria could not take another punitive action by Napoleon.  With a strong belief that the much weakened Austrian state should avoid another invasion by France in any Franco-Russian war, Metternich turned away the diplomatic advances of Tsar Alexander. Then Metternich concluded an alliance with Napoleon in March 1812. 

Imagine how Alexander felt when he saw Austrian troops enter Russia under French control. 

Considering that Metternich preferred Russia and that Russia had fought right beside Austria at Austerlitz against Napoleon, Metternich's cynical move to side with France shows just how much Napoleon had Europe under his thumb.

However, with France's devastating defeat in Russia two years later, now Metternich saw his chance to right the wrong.  Austria quickly changed sides, realigned with Prussia and Russia, and went after Napoleon with a vengeance.

Metternich began to take the actions that would take Austria out of his French alliance with secret negotiations. Sensing this and urged on by Prussian nationalists and Russian commanders, German nationalists revolted in the French Confederation of the Rhine and Prussia. The decisive German campaign likely could not have occurred without the message the defeat in Russia sent to the rest of Europe.

The Coalition of nations allied against Napoleon was overwhelming.  Seeing an opportunity in Napoleon's historic defeat, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, and a number of German states re-entered the war.  They were joined by Russian forces pursuing the dictator.  In addition, England took the field.  Europe was determined to put an end to this monster.

Even with practically every European power now lined up against him, Napoleon still managed an impressive comeback.

Napoleon raised an army of around 400,000 French troops supported by a quarter of a million troops from France's remaining allies to contest control of Germany in a new campaign.

It would take two years of constant fighting to finally subdue Napoleon.

Despite being outnumbered, Napoleon was hard to bring down.  When the French general won a huge victory at the Battle of Dresden in 1813, he seemed to be on the verge of reasserting his old dominance.  Europe was terrified.  

It was not until the decisive Battle of Nations in Leipzig (October 16–19, 1813) that he was finally defeated

After Leipzig, Napoleon was forced to retreat back to France with the Coalition forces right on his heels.

no longer had the troops to stop the Coalition's invasion of France.  The Russians and their allies had decided to follow Napoleon to his lair. 

During the fighting in France, Napoleon did still manage to inflict heavy losses with a series of minor military victories.

However the far larger Allied armies were determined not to quit this time.  They drove towards Paris in 1814.

After a series of pitched battles, the overwhelmingly outnumbered French finally surrendered.  This picture shows the victorious Russian army entering Paris.

Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba in April 1814. He would escape and rise again in 1815.  This time it took England's Duke of Wellington to subdue the man in the famous battle of Waterloo.  Upon his banishment to St. Helena, Napoleon finally departed the world scene. 

The Russian campaign had revealed that Napoleon was not invincible In particular, his inability to adjust his usual "live off the land" tactics to the Russian strategy when he still had the chance was crippling. 

Another major mistake was his refusal to quit his campaign in Spain while trying to campaign in Russia. Historian F.G. Hourtoulle had this to say: "One does not make war on two fronts, especially so far apart."  In trying to have both victories, he gave up any chance at either. The Spanish campaign also came to a negative conclusion.

When it came to light that Napoleon had made many terrible errors in this campaign, the humiliating defeat put an end to his reputation as an undefeated military genius.

For some reason, there is a tendency on the part of some to cut Napoleon some slack.  Why this is, no one can be sure.  Perhaps one reason would be a begrudging admiration for his tenacity, political skill, and military prowess.

No one can deny Napoleon was an evil scourge on mankind.  The overall death toll attributed to Napoleon has been pegged at 5 to 7 million (civilian and military). 

Yet, oddly enough, his reputation is nowhere near as bad as that of Hitler. In contrast with the genocide of Hitler, Napoleon fares well.  Perhaps this anomaly can be explained by the fact that Napoleon had a sense of style and Hitler didn't.

In addition to his charm and manners, by and large he treated his vanquished foes with decency.  While most people view Hitler as pure evil, many see Napoleon as a misguided genius who took the wrong path after a good start.  Power corrupts.

Nevertheless, nothing can excuse Napoleon's actions. Countless innocent people died needlessly due to his outsized ambition and ego.  Napoleon was a monster.

Aftermath in Russia

We all know that the Russian military didn't actually beat Napoleon.  Some of the credit goes to the Gods of the Russian Winter and the unknown saboteur who burned Moscow, the master sacrifice that would one day lead to the death of the serpent.

Therefore, it is difficult to say who were the true heroes of the Russian victory.  If anyone deserves the credit, it would have to be Barclay de Tolly, the much maligned architect of the controversial scorched earth strategy. 

Barclay was blamed for the loss of Smolensk, but it was Pyotr Bagration's disregard for Barclay's authority that got the Russians into the mess in the first place.  However, it was Barclay who took the fall.  He was relieved of his command by Alexander after the loss. 

Barclay accepted the demotion as gracefully as possible.  Three weeks later Barclay's men fought brilliantly at the pivotal battle of Borodin.

Immediately following Borodin, it was Barclay who convinced Kutuzov to cede Moscow to Napoleon.  This move became the trap that finally ensnared Napoleon. 

While Napoleon spun his wheels for a month in Moscow, the personality conflicts continued in the Russian high command.  Insulted over the misunderstanding of his actions and feeling he had been treated unjustly, Barclay de Tolly submitted a report to Alexander asking for permission to leave the army.  He was granted leave.  However less than a year later Barclay was recalled to resume his duties as Commander when Kutuzov took ill.

After the war, once people realized the true extent of his contributions, Barclay de Tolly was eventually recognized as a great Russian hero.  However Barclay's name is barely known outside of Russia.  Unappreciated in his own country, disrespected by his peers, and unknown in the Western world, it seems strange that the Duke of Wellington is given all the credit for defeating Napoleon while the identity of the man who made it all possible lingers in obscurity.

Rather than Barclay, it was Mikhail Kutuzov who was heralded as the Russian general who beat Napoleon.  A cursory examination of his role shows that Kutuzov got very lucky when Moscow burned down.  Now that Napoleon was trapped, Kutuzov rode to glory on this fortunate turn of events while Barclay got all the blame for the suffering involved in the scorched earth madness.  Who said life is fair?

Sadly, Kutuzov didn't get to stick around to receive his tributes.  The stress of the war took a deep toll on his health.  He died in 1813 while in pursuit of the French army across Europe.

The Campaign of 1812 was the turning point of Alexander's life.

Emperor Alexander had been taken for a ride at Tilsit in 1807.  The inexperienced young man had fallen under the spell of the silver-tongued general. 

Slowly but surely over the course of the next few years, Alexander had the blinders removed from his eyes. Noticing that Napoleon's actions didn't match his words, Alexander came to the correct conclusion that Napoleon was keeping Russia neutralized with his insincerity until he was ready to attack.  Once Alexander realized how easily Napoleon had manipulated him with false promises, he took a stand. 

While it is true that Russia paid dearly for the Tsar's stand on principles, ultimately Alexander may have had no choice.  Who is to say that Napoleon would not have attacked Russia anyway when he was good and ready?

Besides England, Russia was the last obstacle in Napoleon's way.  If Napoleon had succeeded in conquering Russia military or neutralizing it with threats and cajolery, who knows how long England could have resisted? 

England was having problems of its own.  It was fighting a war with Napoleon in Spain and fighting America in the War of 1812 (a war caused in large part by tensions created by Napoleon's policies).  If Russia had fallen, England was in deep trouble.

One reason the study of Napoleon remains so fascinating is the clever way that the French leader managed to force countries like Austria, Germany, Italy and Prussia to bend to his will. No one dared step out of line. Napoleon was engaged in a real-life campaign of systematic conquest that resembled the board game Risk

In Risk, every time you conquer a territory, you get an extra army on your next turn. Napoleon played the same game... but for real.

Each time he defeated a country, Napoleon ordered the country to contribute men to his army.  Then Napoleon would go against the next country twice as strong.  By the time Napoleon reached Russia, he had completely shattered the European balance of power that had kept the various countries in check for centuries. 

By the time Napoleon decided to attack Russia, his Grande Armée had grown to preposterous dimensions.  His force of 600,000 men consisted of troops not just from France, but troops from Prussia, Italy, Germany, and Austria as well.  Russia's army was terribly outnumbered and outcoached.  It was one country against five and the five had the best general.

What betting man would have given Russia any chance at all?  

Alexander is a hero because his defiance moved up Napoleon's timetable.  He provoked Napoleon into taking on Russia before Napoleon had settled his problems in Spain.  Distracted and unprepared, Napoleon uncharacteristically fell into a trap that cost him his Empire. 

Alexander's brave move probably saved Europe.  People make mistakes when forced to move too fast.

Therefore Tsar Alexander I gets high marks for his role in ending the tyranny of Napoleon.  Alexander deserves much credit because he took on a dangerous man and stood up to him.  How many other men had the guts to stand up to a bully like Napoleon?  History already has the answer for that.  Very few.

After the War

Despite Alexander's much-acclaimed role as the savior of Europe, Alexander did not fare well after the victory. 

The horrors of the war - seeing the peasants die of starvation, seeing Napoleon carve the Russian armies up with ease, seeing Smolensk and Moscow go up in smoke - was more than he could bear.  The senseless violence, suffering, and needless destruction all weighed on his soul. 

Alexander turned to religion and mysticism.  At the burning of Moscow, Alexander made the odd declaration that his soul had found illumination.  Alexander said he had received a divine revelation that it was his sacred duty to become the peacemaker of Europe. 

However, now that his mission was fulfilled, Alexander was overcome by a lingering depression he could not seem to shake.  Alexander turned inward.  He embarked on a spiritual quest for the final twelve years of life. 

There are hints in Alexander's biography that he was a troubled man.  Unlike Napoleon or Alexander's predecessor Peter the Great, tough guys born with thick skins, Alexander took every loss personally.  His sensitive nature caused him to assume much of the responsibility.  The resulting guilt disturbed a mind never too well balanced in the first place. 

Sadly, he left his good wife Louise for a mistress in 1799.  In an odd turn of events, Alexander left his mistress and returned to his wife nineteen years later in 1818.  He and Louise became very close from that point on.

Alexander's life came to a sudden end in 1825.  He rushed to his wife's side when Louise was diagnosed with typhus.  Alexander caught the same disease and perished soon after.  His biography doesn't say whether he found the mystical answers he was looking for.


The End of the Romanov Line

For Russia, the consequences of winning the 1812 war with France were strange.

The term "Patriotic War" became a symbol for the country's newfound national identity.  For the first time ever, the nobility and the peasants alike both began to care for Mother Russia.  Even the people in far off Siberia began to feel affection for the country thanks to the remarkable victory by a serious underdog over the world's major superpower. 

This powerful new love for the homeland would have great effect on Russian patriotism throughout the remainder of the 19th century.  

Unfortunately, the indirect result of the patriotic movement of Russians was a strong desire for the modernization of the country

Thanks to the terrible mistreatment of the serfs through many centuries, there was a tremendous buildup of bitterness that worked like an acid upon the Russian soul.  Over the centuries, this bitterness had created a vast reservoir of pent-up pressure.  This pressure was so extreme it can be compared to the same sort of pressure buildup that precedes a massive earthquake.  This tension would have to be released sooner or later.

In 1861, Alexander II, the son of Nicholas I (younger brother and successor to Alexander I), took a major step to solve the problem by freeing the serfs. 

By a strange coincidence, Alexander II's decision to free the serfs in 1861 came at almost the exact same time as Lincoln's decision to free the slaves in 1863.   Thanks to "Alexander the Liberator", there was much rejoicing among the lowly serfs. 

However, Alexander II's move backfired in a certain way.  The nobility immediately scrambled for ways to keep the freed serfs from straying too far.  They sold them land under outrageous terms.  The uneducated serfs almost immediately found themselves in debt that guaranteed more servitude.  That just added to their frustration. 

Now that they had some freedom, the working class said that freeing the serfs wasn't enough.  Now how about treating these people fairly?  How about laws to protect the weak and downtrodden?  What about education?  And medical treatment? 

They demanded more reforms IMMEDIATELY.  Big problem.  Everyone knows that nothing in Russia changes fast unless Peter the Great threatens torture.   

Alexander II tried to pass more reforms, but the Duma, Russia's legislature, dragged its heels.  Peter the Great would have simply chopped off a few heads to accelerate things, but Alexander II tried to work within the system.  He didn't get very far.

The working class didn't understand that the Tsar was doing the best he could. They had no patience left.  A plot to take his life formed.

Alexander II died an unusually horrible death in 1881.  As his carriage crossed a bridge, a giant bomb exploded.  His reinforced carriage saved him, but innocent bystanders screamed in pain.  When Alexander got out of the carriage to see if he could help the wounded, a second assassin saw an opportunity and threw his bomb at him. 

In the explosion, both legs were severed.  The poor man bled to death right there on the sidewalk.  He was said to have died in great agony.

Two good men - Lincoln and Alexander - had done the right thing for their country and both men died senseless, terrible deaths at the hands of ignorant people. 

This assassination was the absolute worst thing that could have happened to Russia.  All Russian people were filled with horror and revulsion at this barbaric act.  They felt the exact same way most American Northerners did when Lincoln was killed.  They demanded justice and revenge.

The similar paths of America and Russia now took different turns. 

While America overcame the death of Lincoln to move slowly back towards unity after the Civil War, Russian society ruptured. 

It turned out the well-organized assassins were members of the "People's Will" movement.  This was a secret faction of disgruntled working class members who were bitter that Alexander had not reformed Russia fast enough to suit them.

Once the ruling class discovered the working class identity of the assassins,  the shockwave of Alexander's terrible death created a massive backlash that stopped the reform movement in its tracks. 

The legislature passed a series of laws that began a new era of harsh repression.  A tide of misery spread throughout the land.

This in turn led to more resentment of the nobility and the Tsar.  Ultimately the schism in society just kept getting worse.  It led to a series of minor revolutions that culminated with the explosive Russian Revolution of 1917.

The crowd that supplanted the Tsar as Russia's new leaders were a mean and merciless bunch. 

Their brutal, cold-blooded execution of Tsar Nicholas and Empress Alexandra as well as their popular children in 1918 left a horrible stigma on the Russian conscience that remains to this day. 

Perhaps the centuries of built-up hatred for the ruling class required some sort of blood-letting similar to the guillotine death of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  Perhaps if the murderers had simply stopped at shooting the Tsar, people could understand.  But the murder by firing squad of the wife and the innocent children was barbaric and cruel in a way the civilized world could not tolerate. 

The senseless murder marked the end of the Romanov line.  It also removed any sympathy for the new Russian leaders in the eyes of the world.

One totalitarian regime had replaced another. Some say all the regime change accomplished was change the cold thick boot atop Russia's throat.

Meanwhile, the majority of Russia's populace would continue to lead lives of desperation just like they had since the invasion of the Mongols 700 years earlier.  Russia has never been a stranger to cruelty and murder.

There are said to be ghosts hiding in the snows and the forests wherever you go.  The chilling red stain of Romanov blood never seems to disappear.  And the steely Russian skies go on forever...



A Note From Rick Archer:
 This concludes my Story of Russia.  As you can see, I have chosen to abbreviate the tragedy of the Romanov execution and the brutal Russian Revolution.  In addition I bypassed the Twentieth Century developments such as the 20 million victims of Joseph Stalin, the Cold War and the Communist Regime.   Trust me, much can be read about these subjects elsewhere.

One thing to keep in mind is that I cannot assure the Reader of the accuracy of everything I have written.  I am a Travel Writer who wrote this story while researching our upcoming visit to Russia in August 2012. I do all my research on the Internet.  This means my story's accuracy is dependent on the work of anonymous people I have never met and cannot vouch for.  In other words, my word is only as good as the word of the person whose story pops up on Page One or Page Two of Google. 

If you trust Wikipedia, then you can relax.  Each story starts with the Wikipedia version, the modern font of all knowledge.  From there I nose around for additional sources.  Although I can't say that my writing is "scholarly", I promise you that I didn't make anything up.

I hope you have enjoyed my recap of Russia History.  I found the story of the Russia to be quite riveting.  I hope you agree.

Rick Archer

February 2012

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