Talk about an ‘Oh Shit’ Moment.
On this day in 1812, Napoleon and his grand, if not ill-informed army of more than 500,000 troops, entered Moscow for what the tiny emperor had hoped would be an easy fight. He was certain that after his victory at the battle of Borodino only a week before, the taller and slightly more intelligent Alexander I of Russia would merely throw down his arms and surrender. Unfortunately, for Napoleon, this was not to be the case. Upon entering the wondrous city, he was greeted by a feeling of dread, but nothing else. The city was empty. It’s inhabitants; gone. This did not however, stop Bonaparte from searching nearly every building; every store front to every hovel, every warehouse and every dockyard. The Emperor had been duped. But his plan to rule Moscow and the rest of the world had not changed. He ordered his highest ranking officers to secure the chain of supply – which was still two days behind – and to locate a proper building for headquarters. The rest of the men were to set up military operations as if the city had not been deserted. Napoleon smiled. All was going to plan after all.
On the third day, Napoleon learned that the supply chain had been severed by bandits. For two days he and his men had survived on milk from cows that had been left behind and cabbage. There was no food, no healthy water, and worst of all the rest of the armaments had be looted. When hearing this news, Napoleon was heard to say: “Death is nothing; but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.”
“Death is nothing; but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.”
That very evening Napoleon Bonaparte gave the order to clear out of Moscow. And just when he thought that nothing could possibly get any worse, a fire was spotted in a nearby livery stable. That fire quickly caught and before he knew it, Napoleon and his grand army were running for their lives.
On his return to France, Napoleon dispatched a letter to Alexander I, asking:
“My lord Brother. Beautiful, magical Moscow exists no more. How could you consign to destruction the loveliest city in the world, a city that has taken hundreds of years to build?”
In response, Alexander replied simply: “The fire has illuminated my soul.”
There was to be no further communication from either men, and Napoleon never again stepped foot in Russia, though it was clearly the salt on his wound. He died 9 years later; killed by the greed that fed him.