On June 13 (25), 1812 Alexander I gave order to the troops to begin hostilities due to Napoleon invasion. The same day tsar gave rescript at the name of the State Council and Committee of Ministers President N. I. Saltykov ‘On the necessity to be up in arms so as to repulse the French armies from the Russian limits’. It ended with the following: ‘I will not lay down arms until there is not a single enemy in my land’.
By the summer of 1812 Napoleon had concentrated at the Russian frontier a giant formation for the time which numbered over 400 000 men. Along with Frenchmen the campaign was joined with Poles, Italians, Belgians, Swiss, Austrians, Dutchmen, Germans and representatives of other European nations which comprised about a half of the Napoleon army.
The Russian troops were divided into three armies in order to defend all the lines of advance of Napoleon: the 1st Western army commanded by infantry General M. B. Barklai de Tolly covered the direction of St. Petersburg; the 2nd Western army headed by infantry General Count P. I. Bagration protected the way to Moscow; the 3rd army of cavalry General A. P. Tormasov covered the south-western sector.
The operative plan of Napoleon consisted of the fast maneuver of his main forces against the right wing of the 1st Western army and benefit from numerical superiority in order to defeat by turns in frontier battles the formations of the 1st and 2nd Russian armies. The Russian commandment followed the defensive tactic avoiding the direct fighting until the forces are equal along with efficient actions against weak flanks of the enemy.
On August 26 (September 7) took place the general battle of the Patriotic War of 1812 near Borodino village 120 km away from Moscow. The Russians and Frenchmen had suffered significant losses and none of the parties had won decisively.
On September 1 (13) at the war council held in Fili village near Moscow the Commander in Chief M. I. Kutuzov decided to leave Moscow without battling for it in order to save the army and occupy advantageous positions for counter attack. Having made two marches down Ryazan road and crossed Moscow river near Borovsky ferry, the Russians turned west which was unexpected by the enemy. This maneuver called ‘tarutin’ one was not at first noticed by Frenchmen. The Cossacks of General N. N. Raevsky rear-guard managed, by means of demonstrative retreat, to carry along the cavalry of the French General I. Murat. During this time the Russian army led by Kutuzov advanced to Podolsk, then, protected by the rear guard of General M. A. Miloradovich continued along the old Kaluga road to the Red Pakhra, then, turning to the southwest, went to River Nara and September 21 (October 3), stopped in a fortified camp near the village of Tarutino. As a result of this maneuver the Russian army withdrew from the blows of the enemy and occupied an advantageous position to prepare for the offensive.
On October 7 (19) after the defeat of his advance guard near Tarutino, Napoleon left Moscow. The main forces of the French army began to retreat to Smolensk via Kaluga, where Napoleon hoped to capture the large stores of food and fodder. An attempt of the French Emperor to break through and reach the southern regions of the country failed. Russian troops blocking the way to the enemy in Maloyaroslavets 12 (24) October forced him to take the devastated Smolensk road.
Having realized the failure of his military plans Napoleon avoided in any possible way to enter into a decisive battle which the Russian commandment was imposing on him. During the battle at Berezina river November 14 (26) – 17 (29), Napoleon sustained a striking defeat and ran away leaving his army behind.
On December 14 (26), 1812 the remains of French troops were chased from the territory of Russia.
December 21, 1812 (January 2, 1813) Kutuzov in his order to the army congratulated the troops with the expulsion of the enemy out of Russia and pledged to "finish the defeat of the enemy on his own fields." 19 (31) March 1814 Russian troops led by Emperor Alexander I triumphantly entered Paris.
The Patriotic War of 1812 had left a deep trace in the public life of Russia. Big events of the war inspired many Russian writers, artists, composers; military events of this period are depicted in the numerous monuments and works of native art.
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From the Presidential library materials:
Жуков И. Мысли и замечания о плане отступления русских войск внутрь Империи при нашествии Наполеона, изложенном г. Богдановичем в его «Истории Отечественной войны 1812 г. по достоверным источникам». М., 1867;