Napoleon’s Russian campaign was the first step towards his eventual fall.
French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, had begun his campaign to conquer Russia on 24th June 1812. Initially the French army made good progress through Western Russia winning a number of small battles along the way.
On August 16th Napoleon’s forces were engaged by Russian troops. The Battle of Smolensk lasted for two days but was a victory for the French. Napoleon intended to march on the Russian capital St Petersburg but found his way blocked by a Russian force commanded by General Wittgenstein. The Russians won the Battle of Polotsk and Napoleon was forced to retreat.
Napoleon now had no choice but to march on Moscow, however, this had not been his initial intention and there were insufficient provisions for the army. To make matters worse the Russians retreating back to Moscow were using scorched earth tactics (burning everything left behind) to prevent the French from living off the land.
On 7th September 1812 the French fought the Russians at the Battle of Borodino. Although the French were victorious the Russian army was put to flight rather than defeated.
Napoleon entered Moscow on 14th September 1812 but found the city largely derelict and deserted.
Without provisions or reserve soldiers to replenish his army Napoleon had no choice but to retreat back. The Russians used guerilla tactics to impede the French retreat as much as possible. The French were also not prepared for the wet, muddy Autumn conditions nor the Russian winter which began in November. The last French soldiers left Russia in December 1812.