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Essay/Term paper: Reasons on why napoleon had lost the campaign of 1812

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Humanities

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Napoleon's Reasons for Defeat

The Campaign of 1812 should have been a another crusade for Napoleon,

but he now faced 2 new policies that he had never faced before, the severe Russian

winter and the notorious scorched-earth policy. On June 23, 1812 Napoleon's

Grande Armee, over 500,000 men strong, poured over the Russian border. An

equal amount of Russian forces awaited them. The result of the campaign was a

surprise. Two authors, General carl von Clausewitz and Brett James, show

similarities in reasons why Napoleon had lost this campaign to Russia.

Napoleon believed that after a few quick victorious battles, he could

convince Alexander to return to the Continental System. He also decided that if he

occupied Moscow, the Russian government would crumple and ask for peace.

" A single blow delivered at the heart of the Russian Empire, at Moscow the Great,

at Moscow the Holy, will instantly put this whole blind, apathetic mass at my

mercy." pg 6, 1812 Napoleon's Defeat in Russia

This was his belief he expressed in March 1812. However, when Napoleon

eventually took over Moscow, the Tsar still did not surrender. Napoleon, sent a

message to the Tsar, demanding a immediate surrender. However, the Tsar could

not surrender because if he did, he would be assassinated by the nobles.

Clausewitz replies by saying, " Napoleon was unable to grasp the fact that

Alexander would not, could not negotiate. The Tsar knew well that he would be

disposed and assassinated if he tried so." pg 256, The Campaign of 1812 in


General Clausewitz said, "Napoleon believed if he defeated the Russian Army and

occupied Moscow, the Russian leadership will fall apart and the government

would call for peace." pg 253, The Campaign of 1812 in Russia

Brett James also agreed that Napoleon's occupation had no result. " The

occupation of Napoleon in Moscow did not have a effect on the government." pg

13, 1812 Napoleon's Defeat in Russia

With his battle plan set, Napoleon prepared his troops for the attack on

Russia. But, Napoleon did not consider the fierce Russian winter which awaited

him. According to Ludwig Wilhelm Gottlob Schlosser, a onlooker, he described

the army by saying,

" The French, down to the lowliest drummer were very fastidious. These poor

French devils were not satisfied with less than soup, meat and vegetables, roast,

and salad for their midday meal, and there was no sign of their famous frugality.

They were completely devoid of the coming winter." pg 13, 1812 Napoleon's

Defeat in Russia

Napoleon was even warned by General Rapp about the extremities of the

oncoming winter in Russia.

" The natives say we shall have a severe winter," Napoleon retorted scornfully, "

Bah! You and your natives! We shall see how fine it is." pg 147, 1812

Napoleon's Defeat in Russia

Napoleon should have heeded Rapp's words. As the Grand Armee marched toward

Moscow, many horses and men were lost in the freezing snow, and for those who

remained, their morale and effectiveness was at the nadir.

General Clausewitz states his point by saying, " With more precaution and better

regulations as to subsistence, with more careful consideration of his marches,

which would have prevented the unnecessary and enormous accumulation of

masses on one and the same road, he would have preserved his army in a more

effective condition." pg 255, The Campaign of 1812 in Russia

Brett James also shared the same opinion, " Napoleon appeared to have made no

effort to discover the facts in Russia, or prepare his troops for it." pg 140, 1812

Napoleon's Defeat in Russia

As Napoleon and his army was making their way to Moscow, they

encountered typhus, colds, and dysentery. Even the mighty Napoleon had caught

a mild case of the flu. However, his soldiers had received the brunt of the attack.

Captain Thomas- Joesph Aubry relives this ordeal, " After this the typhus made

appalling inroads in our ranks. We were fourty-three officers in our ward. All of

them died, one after the other, and delirious from this dreadful disease, most of

them singing, some in Latin, others in German, others again in Italian - and singing

psalms, canticles, or the mass." pg 210, 1812 Napoleon's Defeat in Russia

General Clausewitz wrote, " The bad water and the air-borne insects caused

dysentery, typhus, and diarrhea." pg 136, The Campaign of 1812 in Russia

Brett James also wrote, " Bad water, bad air, and bad sanitation all contributed to

the vile diseases." pg 213 1812, Napoleon's defeat in Russia

Napoleon had lost about 80,000 men altogether from diseases alone. But there

were some remedies for the sick, doctors provided gruel for the dysentery and

warm soup for the colds. Napoleon could have lowered the casualties if he had

brought more doctors and more supplies.

When Napoleon had finally reached Moscow, he discovered it deserted.

Two days later, a great fire broke out in Moscow, temporarily forcing Napoleon

and some of his troops out of Moscow. If Napoleon had reached Moscow with at

300,000 men instead of 90,000, he could have continued his campaign and defeat

the weakened Russian army. The Emperor could have reached Moscow with at

least 300,000 men if he had taken better care of his troops and had not fought

every battle that he came across. Brett James shows that Napoleon regarded his

army as mere numbers and did not contemplate that they would be affected by

hunger and fatigue.

" He would not have lost a 100,000 men if he had not chosen on every occasion to

take the bull by the horns." pg 86, 1812 Napoleon's Defeat in Russia

" Moscow was a good weeks march away, but already the army was already

disintegrating through sheer hunger." pg 147, 1812 Napoleon's Defeat in Russia

General Clausewitz also relates with Brett by declaring, " He reached Moscow

with 90,000 men, he should have reached it with 300,000. This would have

happened if he treated his army with more care and forbearance." pg 255, The

Campaign of 1812 in Russia

If Napoleon only had at least 300,000 men, he could have waited for supplies

with the comfort of knowing that he was safe. Instead, Napoleon retreated and

allowed his army to slowly wither under the attack of the Russian guerrillas.

Therefore I have shown some reasons why Napoleon had lost the

Campaign of 1812 to Russia. However, Napoleon did not lose the war out of

military errors but of a simple miscalculation - a miscalculation that was made by

Hitler a century later. Napoleon believed that if he occupied Moscow, the Russian

government would collapse and he would rule Europe with little opposition. But

as history reveals, this tactic does not work and Napoleon is defeated, paving the

way for other nations to deny Napoleon's lust for power. 

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