Napoleonic Literature
Losses Suffered by the Grande Armée
during the Russian Campaign

Following is a reproduction of a map drawn by Charles Joseph Minard in 1861, and is reputed to be the best statistical graphic ever drawn by anyone. Crossing the Niemen on 24 June 1812 with an army of 442,000 men, Napoleon entered Moscow on 14 September with a mere 100,000.  On the way, 72,000 men were diverted to other locations. Of these 30,000 managed to rejoin the main column shortly before the crossing of the Berezina River during the retreat, and another 6,000 shortly before it reached the comparative safety of the Niemen River.  This means that the main army; that is, the portion that continued on to Moscow numbered approximately 370,000.  Casualties were extremely high for a campaign in which almost no combat took place 270,000!   This is a staggering 73% casualties, and that's only on the way to the objective.  Napoleon's problems started immediately after crossing the Niemen.  The weather was uncooperative; the summer started two weeks late, which affected the ripening of the crops, and this in turn robbed Napoleon of the grain he had planned on for feeding his horses.  The cold, heavy rain made quagmires of the roads and fields.  The result of all this was that, from the very outset,  thousands of men and horses died daily.  But that was just the beginning.  The harsh Russian summer now struck with a vengeance.  Coupled with this was the lack of food and water, sickness, privations of every description, and losses to the enemy through capture of stragglers, foraging parties and other unlucky souls, as well as combat.  Although there was relatively little combat, it was brutal and resulted in tremendous casualties on both sides.  Finally, on 14 December 1812, the last of the Grande Armée limped across the Niemen.  Marshal Ney was the last to cross the Niemen and was himself the army's rear guard.  Barely 10,000 members of the Grande Armée survived.  In all, the Grande Armée suffered a staggering 97.7% casualties!

The map plots six variables:  the size of the army, its location on a 2-dimensional surface, direction of the army's movement, and temperature on various dates during the retreat from Moscow. Temperatures are given in degrees Réaumur (R), which the Russians used until just prior to World War I. You can obtain a rough idea of the temperatures in centigrade (C) and fahrenheit (F) by the following comparison:  80oR = 100oC = 212oF.

The conversions from degrees Réaumur to degrees Celcius were provided to me by Pedro Barquin on 3 May 2000. I then converted the Celcius temperatures to Fahrenheit using the JavaScript Temperature Converter. This will assist you to realize the extremely cold temperatures that the French and Russian armies had to endure during the retreat.

The temperatures Minard shows on his map, in degrees Réaumur and their Centigrade (Celcius) and Fahrenheit equivalents are as follows. The temperatures are listed in the sequence in which they were encountered from the beginning to the end of the retreat; that is, from right to left on the map:
Date Place Réaumur Celcius Fahrenheit
18 Oct Malojaroslavetz 0 0 32
  9 Nov Dorogobongr -9 -11.25 11.75
14 Nov Smolensk -21 -26.25 -15.25
20 Nov Botr -11 -13.75 7.25
23 Nov Berezina River -20 -25 -13
  1 Dec Minsk -24 -30 -22
  6 Dec Molodeczno -30 -37.5 -35.5
  7 Dec Vilna -26 -32.5 -25.6
The following version of the map is, believe it or not, my thumbnail version. To see a larger version, where you can actually read all the text and numbers, please click on the map.  Clicking on the larger map or your browser's Back button will return you to this page.

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