World History 1812

About the history of the world in 1812, Napoleon begins a war with Russia.

TWO CENTURIES OF WORLD HISTORY: 1778-1978

1812

June 18 The U.S. Congress declared war against Britain over interference with American shipping two days after the British repealed the trade restrictions which were causing the conflict. News of the British action did not reach the U.S. until Aug. 12. (Napoleon had shrewdly eliminated trade restrictions against Americans much earlier.)

June 24 Deciding to teach the Russian czar a lesson because he would not close ports to British shipping, Napoleon, without formal declaration of war, took his Grand Army of 600,000 men into Russia.

Sept. 7 At Borodino, 70 mi. west of Moscow, the French defeated the Russians in a Pyrrhic victory: 30,000 French soldiers and 43 French generals were killed, while the Russians lost 43,000. Napoleon called it "the most terrible" of his battles. Each side possessed more than 500 cannon, so for eight hours over 1,000 guns thundered, making such a roar that hand signals had to be used instead of bugle calls. No previous battle had produced such a volume of sound.

Sept. 14 Napoleon entered Moscow to find it empty. Using Peter the Great's strategy in the Great Northern War with Sweden (1709), the Russians had retreated eastward, destroying everything of value. Moscow's governor apparently ordered the city put to the torch and removed all fire-fighting equipment. The city burned four days before Napoleon's horrified eyes as he exclaimed, "What a people! What a people!"

Oct. 19 Having tried unsuccessfully for five weeks to negotiate with the czar, Napoleon, fearful of winter's approach, headed west with his Grand Army into the long nightmare of the retreat. Never had the Russian winter with its blizzards and intense cold come so suddenly and so early. The men suffered from starvation, dysentery, frostbite, and hallucinations. Instances of cannibalism were alleged. Of the original 600,000 troops, only about 100,000 returned from Russia.

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