Napoleon’s Retreat From Moscow

Napoleon offered 12,000 francs to any man who could invent a useful way of preserving food for his army, because he wanted to invade and conquer more people.  In 1811, Nicolas Appert a French cook invented or developed the method of preserving food that we call canning.  The principle that Appert discovered was that food such as soups, fruits, jams or stews could be prevented from decomposing, if they were first sealed inside a bottle or jar and then immersed in boiling water for several hours.  He had to evacuate all of the air and hold the jar tightly closed with a cork, wire and sealing wax for this method to work properly.  Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “an army marches on its stomach”, meaning that a group of soldiers can only fight or function effectively if they have been well fed.

By 1812 Napoleon had conquered the whole of continental Europe, all the way from southern Italy to the Baltic, from Portugal to Poland.  He wasn’t able to get at England after the Battle of Trafalgar of 1805, when Lord Nelson had defeated the combined navies of the French and Spanish.  On a Midsummer Day in 1812, Napoleon crossed the River Niemen into what was then the Russian province of Lithuania, in a bid to conquer Russia with the biggest, most spectacular army Europe had ever raised.  This army consisted of almost half a million men, only half of them being French.  The rest of his troupes were drawn from Napoleon’s European empire, a result of his conquests over many countries and this gave him an almost inexhaustible supply of soldiers.

During the opening months of the invasion, Napoleon was forced to contend with a bitter Russian army in perpetual retreat. They refused to engage Napoleon’s superior army in a full-scale confrontation, and instead the Russians burned everything behind them as they retreated deeper and deeper into Russia.  The Russians withdrew swiftly, and as Napoleon pursued them, he was dragged deeper into Russia.  When Napoleon arrived in Moscow he intended to find supplies, but instead he found that almost the entire population had already evacuated, as the Russian army retreated.  Fires broke across the city set by Russian patriots, and after waiting a month for a surrender that never came, Napoleon, faced with the onset of the Russian winter, which forced him to order his starving army out of Moscow.  One month after Napoleon Bonaparte’s massive invading force entered a burning and deserted Moscow, the starving French army retreated out of Russia.  The snow came down, men froze, and horses starved, so on December 8th Napoleon left what remained of his army to return to Paris, finally escaping Russia, having suffered a loss of more than 400,000 men during the disastrous invasion.  That 1812 highway which Napoleon travelled on to and from Moscow is known for being one of history’s greatest military disasters and this battle may be what is behind the lyrics from Bob Dylan song, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’.  I like this song a lot and I consider it to be a touch of perfect where Dylan is saying, “It’s time to get the hell out of Moscow.”

Napoleon got his ass handed to him by the Cossack ‘reindeer army’ and he was probably still lamenting the loss that his navy suffered at Trafalgar where the ‘seasick sailors were rowing home’.  Napoleon was forced to ‘forget the dead’ and to ‘strike another match’, so that he could ‘start anew’.

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun
Look out the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, baby blue

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense
Take what you have gathered from coincidence
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it’s all over now, baby blue

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home
All your reindeer armies, are all going home
The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it’s all over now, baby blue

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, baby blue

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Highway and for September Writing Prompts – A touch of perfect.

11 thoughts on “Napoleon’s Retreat From Moscow

    1. Thanks, Hitler, Napoleon and the Swedes all had a rough time attacking Russia in the winter, but the Japanese, the Finns, the Swedes, the Poles, the Germans in World War I and the Mongols all did it successfully. How long will you be in Moscow?

      Like

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