The War of 1812 in Russia
When Russians talk about the war of 1812 they do not mean the war in which Washington was burned by the British, but the war in which, apparently, the Russians burned Moscow. This war between the French republican empire and the Russian Tsarist Empire was as remarkable a high - spot in the history of the latter as it was a low - spot in the history of Napoleon. For Russia, it was one of those rare moments in history when almost all people, serfs and lords, merchants and bureaucrats, put aside their enmities and realized that they were all Russians. Russia, sometimes called ‘a state without a people’, seemed to become, for a few precious months, one people, and never quite forgot the experience.
Following the French victory at Borodino, Napoleon set his sights on Moscow. The French army had marched the seventy - five miles from Borodino to Moscow without resistance and found the city undefended and almost deserted. Before dawn on 14 September, French Marshal Murat had entered the city on the heels on the Russian army, which was leaving. By arrangement between the two sides, the Russian army left Moscow through one gate while the French entered it through another. The first units to enter the city on 14 September were the cavalry of the advance - guard commanded by Murat. Many of these men had previously entered European cities as conquerors and recalled having marched between hedges of men and women, often silent, guarded, hostile, often merely curious, often applauding - it had happened. Here, nothing. Despite the fine weather (which was soon to change) the streets were empty.
Russian General Kutusov made the difficult decision to abandon Moscow, “As long as the army exists and is in a condition to oppose the enemy, we preserve the hope of winning the war: but if the army is destroyed, Moscow and Russia will perish.” (Markham, 194). He decided to march south, and was followed by much of the populace of Moscow. In fact, on 14 September 1812 Moscow, which normally harbored 300,000 inhabitants, was not completely deserted. It is true that practically every person of Russian origin had left the city, compulsorily. The order to evacuate did not affect foreigners living in Moscow. Not only could they remain, they were obliged to do so. The first concern of those who stayed was to amass a stock of provisions, which were piled everywhere, especially in cellars. It was then rumored that the city was to be destroyed and those remaining would be ‘buried in the ruins. ‘ (Blond 326). Leaving furniture and pictures, taking only their jewels and food, the foreigners and those Muscovites anxious for their possessions moved to apartments, often in the palaces of friends who had fled. Later that day, Napoleon entered Moscow with 95,000 men at his side.
Napoleon received from Murat, who was continuing to pursue the enemy army with the best part of a division, numerous reports in which “the King of Naples...