Borodino, Battle of
(1812)
   A bloody and critical battle of the Napoleonic Wars fought between French and Russian troops on Russian soil. As Napoleon Bonaparte ’s forces moved across the European continent, Russian Tsar Alexander I formed an alliance with Britain, Austria, and Prussia, the Sixth Coalition, in an attempt to check French expansion. These alliances fluctuated, however, with each French victory. Such was the situation with Russia. Napoleon’s powerful war machine inflicted significant military defeats on Russia in 1805 and 1807, forcing Russia to sign the Treaty of Tilsit and maintain peaceful relations with France from 1807 to 1812. During this period, Russia was part of Napoleon’s Continental System, a reluctant collaboration of subjugated or conquered European nations who, through various trade embargos, were supposed to help Napoleon bring England to its knees. Russia’s participation in this system, however, was a product only of Napoleon’s military power, not common interests, as Russia had a long trade relationship with England. Alexander was also concerned when Napoleon won Prussia’s Polish holdings and created a French-dominated state called the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Finally, Napoleon’s ambitions in the Mediterranean conflicted with Russia’s interest in controlling Constantinople and the Turkish Straits. When it became apparent that Alexander would no longer cooperate, Napoleon decided to invade Russia. He amassed an army of 600,000 men, 200,000 animals, and 20,000 vehicles and entered Russia in late June 1812. The Russians retreated eastward, avoiding battle and drawing the French further into Russia. As they retreated they destroyed everything, leaving nothing of use for the French army.
   Finally in September, the Russians took their stand at Borodino, under the leadership of Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov. Although the battle lasted only one day, both sides suffered devastating losses. The Russians lost more than 40,000 men, about one-third of its strength; although Napoleon’s forces won the battle, they lost about half their men yet failed to destroy the Russian army. Exhausted and with severely overextended supply lines, they proceeded to Moscow where they waited a month for Alexander’s surrender. When this failed to occur, Napoleon chose to withdraw rather than face the Russian winter. His army, by this point only 30,000 strong, crossed the Russian border in December. The failure of the Russian invasion was a devastating defeat for Napoleon. Napoleon’s invasion and Borodino are the backdrop to Leo Tolstoy’s novel, War and Peace, in which it is described as “a continuous slaughter which could be of no avail either to the French or the Russians.”
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Caulaincourt, Armand Augustin Louis. With Napoleon in Russia: The Memoirs of General de Caulaincourt, Duke of Vincence. Edited by George Libaire. New York: W. Morrow and Company, 1935;
    McConnell, Allen. Tsar Alexander I: Paternalistic Reformer. New York: Crowell, 1970;
    Palmer, Alan. Napoleon in Russia. London: André Deutsch, 1967;
    Riehn, Richard K. Napoleons Russian Campaign. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990;
    Walter, Jakob. The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier. Edited by Marc Raeff. New York: Doubleday, 1991.
   LEE A. FARROW

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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