In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Russian Campaign of 1812

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Periodicals and Conference Proceedings
  • Archival Material
  • Armies
  • Leaders
  • Other Aspects of the Campaign

Military History Russian Campaign of 1812
Alexander Mikaberidze
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0086


The Franco-Russian alliance created at Tilsit in 1807 and reinforced at Erfurt in 1808 withered away by 1811. Russia was disgruntled by economic losses sustained under the Continental System and was concerned about Napoléon’s plans for the restoration of the Polish kingdom. Emperor Alexander was also alarmed by Napoléon’s aggressive policy in Europe after France annexed Holland, the Hanseatic cities, and North German states. As Russia announced its decision to withdraw from the Continental System, Napoléon began preparations for war. Russia responded by negotiating alliances with Britain and Sweden and concluding a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire, which freed up additional Russian forces. On 24 June 1812 the massive Grande Armée of more than 450,000 men invaded Russia. Napoléon’s plan of forcing the Russians to fight, however, did not materialize, because the Russian armies, commanded by Mikhail Barclay de Tolly and Pyetr Bagration, retreated deep into the country. Compelled to follow them, the Grande Armée suffered from desertion and strategic consumption. Although Napoléon captured Smolensk on 19 August, the Russian armies escaped once more. In late August, Emperor Alexander, under pressure of public opinion clamoring for more-vigorous prosecution of war, gave overall command of Russian forces to Prince Mikhail Kutuzov, who gave battle to Napoléon at Borodino on 7 September. A tactical victory for the French, the battle claimed more than 35,000 French and 45,000 Russian troops but failed to deliver a decisive victory for either side. On 14 September the French occupied the abandoned city of Moscow. Yet, fires soon broke out in the city and continued until 18 September, destroying two-thirds of the buildings. Napoléon spent one month in Moscow, hoping to secure a peace with Russia. Kutuzov, meantime, regrouped the Russian army at the Tarutino Camp, encouraged popular war against the invader, and formed flying detachments to threaten the enemy rear and lines of communications. In mid-October, Napoléon commenced his retreat from Moscow. Unable to break through to Russia’s southern provinces, Napoléon returned to the devastated route to Smolensk and rapidly retreated to the west. The Russians inflicted considerable casualties on the Grand Armée in battles at Vyazma (3 November), at Krasnyi (14–16 November), on the Berezina River (26–29 November), and at Vilna (10 December). The Russian Campaign had disastrous consequences for Napoléon. His military might was shattered following the loss of up to half a million men in Russia. The French cavalry was virtually wiped out and never fully recovered during the subsequent campaigns in 1813–1814. Furthermore, Austria and Prussia exploited the moment to break their alliance with France and joined efforts to destroy the French Empire, which was accomplished in 1815. The campaign is particularly interesting for its gigantic scope, intensity, and variety of tactics employed. The war also had important effects on Russia, which became one of the arbiters of European affairs.

Reference Works

Tulard 1987 is a must-have for anyone interested in the First French Empire, and it remains unmatched in terms of scholarship and depth. Bielecki 2001 is a handy reference on the topic, offering Polish insights. For the Napoleonic officer corps, Six 1934 and Quintin and Quintin 1996 are treasure troves of information, providing thorough biographical details on marshals, generals, and colonels. Fremont-Barnes 2006 is a three-volume reference work that provides a thorough coverage for the entire period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The Russian historiography has been enriched with several important reference works as well. Alexander Podmazo published two important works, one dealing with the Russian regimental commanders (Podmazo 1997) and another providing a detailed chronology of the Napoleonic Wars between 1813 and 1815 (Podmazo 2003). Mikaberidze 2005 is a useful biographical dictionary of the Russian officer corps that is a Russian equivalent of Six 1934. The most important and ambitious of these publications is the massive Otechestvennaia voina 1812 goda (Bezotosnyi 2004), which features some 2,000 entries written by leading Russian scholars. In its scope, level of detail, and quality of articles dealing with the Russian Campaign, this work has no equivalent in English.

  • Bezotosnyi, Victor, ed. Otechestvennaia voina 1812 goda: Ėnciklopedija. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2004.

    This is the most useful reference work dealing with the Russian Campaign. Featuring contributions by leading Russian historians, the work represents the best of modern Russian historical thought. It features some 2,000 entries on a variety of subjects, and in its scope, level of detail, and quality of articles this work has no equivalent in English.

  • Bielecki, Robert. Encyklopedia wojen Napoleońskich. Warsaw: Wydawn. TRIO, 2001.

    A one-volume encyclopedia on the Napoleonic Wars, written by a renowned Polish historian. It contains concise articles related to the Russian Campaign.

  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory, ed. The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History. 3 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2006.

    A three-volume reference work that provides a thorough coverage for the entire period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It features individual entries on the Russian Campaign, battles, and major personalities from both sides.

  • Mikaberidze, Alexander. Russian Officer Corps in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792–1815. New York: Savas Beatie, 2005.

    This is the first English-language biographical reference work on the Russian officer corps of the Napoleonic Wars. It features a lengthy introduction on the development of the officer corps and some eight hundred biographies of senior Russian officers.

  • Podmazo, Alexander. Shefy i komandiry reguliarnykhykh polkov russkoi armii (1796–1815): Spravochnoe posobie. Moscow: Muzei-panorama Borodinskaia bitva, 1997.

    The first publication of its kind, this book provides information on shefs (colonel-proprietors) and commanders of all Russian regiments between the late 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th century.

  • Podmazo, Alexander. Bol’shaia evropeiskaia voina: 1812–1815: Khronika sobytii. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2003.

    The book provides a detailed chronology of events from Napoléon’s invasion of Russia to the fall of the First French Empire.

  • Quintin, Bernard, and Danielle Quintin. Dictionnaire des colonels de Napoléon. Paris: SPM, 1996.

    The dictionary features biographies of every Napoleonic colonel, from birth to death dates and places, with all their military service in between, except for those who went on to become generals and are covered in Six 1934.

  • Six, Georges. Dictionnaire biographique des généraux et amiraux français de la Révolution et de l’empire: 1792–1814. 2 vols. Paris: Saffroy, 1934.

    A remarkable two-volume study that provides detailed biographical information on French generals serving in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

  • Tulard, Jean. Dictionnaire Napoléon. Paris: Fayard, 1987.

    A must-have for anyone interested in the First French Empire. The dictionary, edited by a renowned French historian, features contributions by leading French scholars and remains unmatched in terms of scholarship and depth.

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