Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March


Napoleon dominated nearly all of Europe by 1810, largely succeeding in his aim to reign over the civilized world. But Britain eluded him. To conquer the island nation, he needed Russia's Tsar Alexander's help. The Tsar refused, and Napoleon vowed to teach him a lesson by intimidation and force. The ensuing invasion of Russia, during the frigid winter of 1812, would mark the beginning of the end of Napoleon's empire. Although his army captured Moscow after a brutal march deep into hostile territory, it was a ...

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Napoleon dominated nearly all of Europe by 1810, largely succeeding in his aim to reign over the civilized world. But Britain eluded him. To conquer the island nation, he needed Russia's Tsar Alexander's help. The Tsar refused, and Napoleon vowed to teach him a lesson by intimidation and force. The ensuing invasion of Russia, during the frigid winter of 1812, would mark the beginning of the end of Napoleon's empire. Although his army captured Moscow after a brutal march deep into hostile territory, it was a hollow victory for the demoralized troops. Napoleon's men were eventually turned back, and their defeat was a momentous turning point in world affairs. Dramatic, insightful, and enormously absorbing, Moscow 1812 is a masterful work of history.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Burleigh
“Adam Zamoyski’s account of the 1812 campaign is so brilliant that it is impossible to put the book aside.”
Antony Beevor
“A harrowing account. ... Utterly admirable. It combines clarity of thought and prose with a strong narrative drive.”
Jay Winik
“Told with vigor, sweep, and insight, Moscow 1812 brings this epic moment to life in a thoroughly fascinating way.”
Simon Sebag Montefiore
“Zamoyski elegantly delivers gripping storytelling, bold revisionism, and poignant suffering.”
John Lukacs
“Hundreds of books have been written about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Moscow 1812 is perhaps the best.”
T.J. Binyon
“Powerful. . . . Brilliant. Zamoyski’s exposition of the 1812 campaign is a model of elegant clarity.”
Ed Vulliamy
“A brilliant, chilling account.”
Publishers Weekly
This massive study of Napoleon's famous Russian campaign may rank as the best recent study in English. Napoleon's exclusion of English trade from the Continent and Czar Alexander's territorial ambitions in Central Europe were just two elements in a collision that really did have an epic quality, to which the book's painstaking detail, balanced judgments, thoroughness of research and fluent writing do full justice. Napoleon, Alexander and their entourages are fully characterized, as are crafty Kutuzov, dashing Murat (who ruined the French cavalry) and the indomitable or inept of lesser rank. The outcome, Zamoyski shows, turned on logistics, with the French advancing inexorably farther from their bases, and strategy, in which Napoleon failed either to destroy the Russian army in a single campaign or to accept a limited victory in the first year and renew the campaign in 1813. The result was the retreat from Moscow, and the author spares none of the harrowing details of cold, storm, starvation and the vigorous efforts of the Russians to turn defeat into disaster. Napoleon and his Grand Army were still formidable foes, as at the crossing of the Berezina, but discipline was breaking down, supplies had almost vanished and the doom of Napoleon's military power was sealed. Agent, Gillon Aitken Associates. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In which the famed French emperor seals his doom by marching headlong into a country that would not be tamed. Polish historian Zamoyski (Holy Madness, 2000, etc.) has an eye for irony, and though he does not specifically point out parallels, the French invasion of Russia in 1812 finds echoes in current events. His aides warned Napoleon not to invade, fearing that while the French army was distracted, subject states across Europe would take the occasion to revolt. Alexander, the Russian tsar, had warned a French diplomat that "if it came to war he would go on fighting, in the depths of Russia if necessary, and would never sign a peace dictated to him in his capital," and it was evident before the war began that partisan forces and the weather could combine to do more damage than any Russian army. Still, Napoleon decided to take the battle to Russia, citing threats that did not appear to have much basis in fact. He must have thought he could beat the Russian army, which was made up of mostly non-Russian officers commanding a force of men who were all but serfs under arms: as Zamoyski writes with characteristic attention to detail, a Russian private's enlistment term was for 25 years, and his family was likely to write him off as dead the moment the induction notice came; whenever possible, it seemed, Russian soldiers deserted by the drove. Yet the Russians stood and fought, as they always did when their homeland was threatened; as Zamoyski writes, the Battle of Borodino alone was "the greatest massacre in recorded history, not to be surpassed until the first day of the Somme in 1916." And then there was the winter, of course, which trimmed the French army logarithmically even as Napoleondecided to resort to Plan B: "He resolved to hasten back to Paris, where he would raise a new army in time to sally forth in the spring and not only reassert his control over central Europe but also defeat the Russians. "There's not much news here, but fans of Sharpe, Aubrey, Bezukhov, and the like will appreciate Zamoyski's vivid reconstruction of events.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061086861
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/9/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 363,508
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Zamoyski was born in New York and educated at Oxford. He is the author of Moscow 1812. He lives in London.

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First Chapter

Moscow 1812
Napoleon's Fatal March

Chapter One


As the first cannon shot thundered out from the guns drawn up before the Invalides on the morning of 20 March 1811, an extraordinary silence fell over Paris. Wagons and carriages came to a standstill, pedestrians halted, people appeared at their windows, schoolboys looked up from their books. Everyone began to count as the discharges succeeded each other at a measured pace. In the stables of the Ecole Militaire, the cavalry of the Guard were grooming their horses. "Suddenly, the sound of a gun from the Invalides stopped every arm, suspended every movement; brushes and curry-combs hung in the air," according to one young Chasseur. "In the midst of this multitude of men and horses, you could have heard a mouse stir."

As news had spread on the previous evening that the Empress had gone into labour, many patrons had given their workmen the next day off, and these swarmed expectantly in the streets around the Tuileries palace. The Paris Bourse had ceased dealing that morning, and the only financial transactions taking place were bets on the sex of the child. But the excitement was just as great among those who had nothing riding on it.

"It would be difficult to imagine with what anxiety the first cannon shots were counted," recalled one witness: everyone knew that twentyone would announce the birth of a girl, and one hundred that of a boy. "A profound silence reigned until the twenty-first, but when the twenty-second roared forth, there was an explosion of congratulation and cheering which rang out simultaneously in every part of Paris." People went wild, embracing total strangers and shouting "Vive l'Empereur!" Others danced in the streets as the remaining seventyeight shots thundered out in a rolling barrage.

"Paris had never, even on the greatest holidays, offered a picture of more general joyfulness," noted another witness; "there was celebration everywhere."' A balloon went up, bearing into the sky the celebrated aeronaut Madame Blanchard with thousands of printed notices of the happy tidings, which she scattered across the countryside. Messengers galloped off in all directions with the news. That evening there were fireworks and the capital was illuminated, with candles in the windows of even humble mansard rooms. Theatres staged special performances, printmakers began churning out soppy images of the imperial infant borne on celestial clouds with crowns and laurels hovering over him, and poets set to work on commemorative odes. "But what one will never be able to convey adequately," wrote the young Comte de Ségur, "is the wild intoxication of that surge of public rejoicing as the twenty-second cannon shot announced to France that there had been born a direct heir to Napoleon and to the Empire! "

The twenty-year-old Empress Marie-Louise had felt the first pains at around seven o'clock on the previous evening. Dr Antoine Dubois, Premier Accoucheur of the Empire, was on hand. He was soon joined by Dr Corvisart, the First Physician, Dr Bourdier, the Physicianin-Ordinary to the Empress, and Napoleon's surgeon Dr Yvan. The Emperor, his mother and sisters, and the various ladies of the Empress's household brought to twenty-two the number of those attending her, either in her bedroom or in the next chamber.

Beyond that, the salons of the Tuileries were filled with some two hundred officials and dignitaries, who had been summoned at the first signs of the Empress going into labour and stood about awkwardly in full court dress. Every now and then, one of the ladies-in-waiting on duty would come out and give them a progress report. As the evening wore on, small tables were brought in and they were served a light supper of chicken with rice washed down with Chambertin. But the banter was subdued: things were clearly not proceeding smoothly in the Empress's bedroom. At about five in the morning the Grand Marshal of the Empire came out and informed them that the pains had ceased and the Empress had fallen asleep. He told them they could go home, but must remain on call. Some went, but many of the exhausted courtiers stretched out on benches or rolled up carpets into makeshift mattresses and lay down on them in all their finery to snatch some sleep.

Napoleon had been with Marie-Louise throughout, talking to her and comforting her with all the solicitude of a nervous father-to-be. When she fell asleep Dubois told him he could go and take some rest. Napoleon could do without sleep. His preferred means of relaxation was to lie in a very hot bath, which he believed in as a cure for most of his ailments, be it a cold or constipation, from which he suffered regularly. And that is what he did now.

He had not been luxuriating in the hot water for long when Dubois came running up the concealed stairs that led from his apartment to the Empress's bedroom. The labour pains had started again, and the doctor was anxious, as the baby was presenting itself awkwardly. Napoleon asked him if there was any danger. Dubois nodded, expressing dismay that such a complication had occurred with the Empress. "Forget that she is Empress, and treat her as you would the wife of any shopkeeper in the rue Saint Denis," Napoleon interrupted him, adding: "And whatever happens, save the mother!" He got out of his bath, dressed hastily and went down to join the doctors at his wife's bedside.

The Empress screamed when she saw Dubois take out his forceps, but Napoleon calmed her, holding her hand and stroking her while the Comtesse de Montesquiou and Dr Corvisart held her still. The baby emerged feet first, and Dubois had a job getting the head clear. After much pulling and easing, at around six in the morning he delivered it ...

Moscow 1812
Napoleon's Fatal March
. Copyright © by Adam Zamoyski. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2004

    A gripping account of Napoleons 1812 campaign

    This book is very well written. I became so absorbed in the book that I felt as if I was seeing the events of Napoleons Moscow campaign first hand. This book is absolutely gripping.

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