In the early 1800's, France was not just having great ideas. They had a great leader who carried out these ideas. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte. He was emperor of France, but that did not make him happy. He was greedy and power hungry, and wanted all of Europe under his control. He especially wanted Russia. France and Russia had problems over trade as well as economic agreements. Russia began to let up helping France against England, their enemy, because Alexander was beginning to side with England over France. When Napoleon captured Italy, Spain, and Germany, Russia began to feel pressured. In 1812 Napoleon led his army onto Russian soil (Resnick 77).
On June 24, 1812, Napoleon led an army of 640,000 troops onto Russian soil. The Grand Army, as it was called, was three times the size of Russia's army (77-78). Most of his army was separated into three main armies. He led a group of about 220,000 himself. About 80,000 men were led by Prince Eugene de Beauharnais to the right rear of Napoleon. Further to the rear was a third group, also of about 80,000 men, led by Napoleon's brother Jerome (Lefebvre 311-312). The Russian forces were led by field marshal Mikhail Kutuzov.
In the beginning, the French won most of the battles, using pontoon bridges to cross the numerous rivers and streams. However, as Napoleon advanced deeper into Russian land, his supplies did not. When Napoleon carefully planned his supply trains paths, movements, etc., he did not take into consideration the rough Russian terrain. This great setback caused both troops and horses to starve (Resnick 78).
Napoleon had another major setback that he had not anticipated. The brutal Russian winter. Kutuzov, on the other hand, had anticipated this. He knew that Napoleon and his army would be crushed by the weather. He, however, knew how to deal with it. The Russians avoided battles with Napoleons forces just so that the winter could set in and take its toll on the troops (Kort 68).
Barclay de Tolly and Bagration were each leading a Russian army, and met near Smolensk. Fearing a trap from Napoleon, the two generals retreated into Smolensk. Napoleon planned to attack from the rear and trap the Russian forces in the city. Since his soldiers were moving much slower than he planned, the Russians were able to quickly retreat and get out of the trap. They retreated towards Moscow. Since Napoleon had expected Alexander to beg for peace, he thought that Smolensk would be the very end of his advance into Russia. Since Alexander had not asked for peace yet, Napoleon thought that he would spend the winter in Smolensk. However, there were two factors that prevented this. When Napoleon arrived, the city was deserted, not only of people but of supplies as well. The French army would not have been able to survive. Also his supply trains were moving so slowly that he had to go after the Russians towards Moscow (Dupuy 138-139).
The next major battle was at Borodino, about sixty miles west of Moscow. Napoleon expected a fight, so on September 1, he rested his troops about twenty-five miles from Borodino. He also had a chance to count his actual strength. He realized that he had about 135,000 men. Two days later, Napoleon resumed his advance. There is no real documentation of Napoleons exact plans or strategies. He did, however make the mistake of being too cautious. Had he made a bold and seemingly risky attack during the battle, he would have destroyed the Russian army. Mikhail Kutuzov, the Russian leader seems to have had no real plan, except a stubborn defense. The French forces attacked early on September 7, and the battle raged on for 15 hours, ...