When Russians talk about the war of 1812 they do not mean the war in which Washington was burned by the British, but the war in which, apparently, the Russians burned Moscow. This war between the French republican empire and the Russian Tsarist Empire was as remarkable a high - spot in the history of the latter as it was a low - spot in the history of Napoleon. For Russia, it was one of those rare moments in history when almost all people, serfs and lords, merchants and bureaucrats, put aside their enmities and realized that they were all Russians. Russia, sometimes called ‘a state without a people’, seemed to become, for a few precious months, one people, and never quite forgot the experience.
Following the French victory at Borodino, Napoleon set his sights on Moscow. The French army had marched the seventy - five miles from Borodino to Moscow without resistance and found the city undefended and almost deserted. Before dawn on 14 September, French Marshal Murat had entered the city on the heels on the Russian army, which was leaving. By arrangement between the two sides, the Russian army left Moscow through one gate while the French entered it through another. The first units to enter the city on 14 September were the cavalry of the advance - guard commanded by Murat. Many of these men had previously entered European cities as conquerors and recalled having marched between hedges of men and women, often silent, guarded, hostile, often merely curious, often applauding - it had happened. Here, nothing. Despite the fine weather (which was soon to change) the streets were empty.
Russian General Kutusov made the difficult decision to abandon Moscow, “As long as the army exists and is...
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... flattery, Rostopchin openly claimed that he had been responsible. However, on returning to Russia, where the fire of Moscow was regarded as a dastardly act, he found that his claim had made him very unpopular. Accordingly, he denied his complicity. The probability suggests that it was indeed Rostopchin who was responsible. After all it was he who, before leaving Moscow, ignited his own house and ordered the removal of the city’s fire pumps.
However, Napoleon did not lose the war out of military errors but of a simple miscalculation - a miscalculation that was made by Hitler a century later. Napoleon believed that if he occupied Moscow, the Russian government would collapse and he would rule Europe with little opposition. But as history reveals, this tactic does not work and Napoleon is defeated, paving the way for other nations to deny Napoleon's lust for power.
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