Russia, the Moscow Campaign and the Making of the Napoleonic Legend
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Russia, the Moscow Campaign and the Making of the Napoleonic Legend
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Alan Forrest 
University of York
State Academic University for the Humanities

The Russian Campaign was a military disaster for Napoleon and was arguably the greatest strategic mistake of his career, greater even than the Peninsula or Waterloo. That he was able to recover his prestige with his army and with the French people owed much to his skills as a propagandist, and to his efforts, particularly during his exile on St. Helena, to prepare his legend and write his own history for posterity. For the officers and men involved, the Campaign brought pain, exhaustion, misery and death rather than the glory they had dreamt of; they returned to France decimated and dispirited, and for Napoleon himself a career of stunning victories was over. But not all was lost. This article examines the response of those who took part in the Russian Campaign to their experience of war, showing that though their faith in their Emperor’s strategy suffered, their loyalty to him remained largely intact. It also shows how much they admired the Russian troops against whom they fought, not least the Cossack horsemen, before their opinion of Russia and its people was undermined by the torching of Moscow. 1812 had been a disaster for Napoleon. Yet, the Russian Campaign would take its place in French memory as a glorious defeat and an emblematic adventure, breath-taking in its scale and ambition, and tragic in its outcome. Far from destroying Napoleon’s reputation, it may even have added an element of pathos and human fragility that contributed to the Imperial legend in the nineteenth century.

historical memory, Napoleonic wars, Russian campaign of 1812, Napoleon
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