Europe 1812: French retreat from Moscow
Despite the French capture of Moscow, the Russians refused to negotiate and Napoleon eventually realized that he had no option but to withdraw. In late October 1812 the French marched southwest towards Kaluga, in the hope of taking a fresh route back west, but were halted at Maloyaroslavets. Persuaded that the Kaluga road was no longer viable, Napoleon now decided to return along the same route he had come, a path already devastated by his advance.
19 Sep–21 Oct 1812 Siege of Burgos▲
While Wellington was capturing Madrid in mid-August 1812, the French in the north of Spain rallied under Bertrand Clauzel and retook Valladolid. Wellington turned on Clauzel in September and chased him back, but his 35,000-strong Anglo-Portuguese Army was held up by the need to capture the fortress of Burgos with its 2,000-man garrison under Jean-Louis Dubreton. While the Allies were engaged in a fruitless month-long siege, the French northern force was reinforced to some 53,000 troops under Joseph Souham and the French in the south combined to march on Madrid. Realizing that his situation was now precarious, Wellington withdrew in late October, narrowly escaping Souham’s advancing army.
19–23 Oct 1812 French abandon Moscow▲
By 17 October 1812, having had his armistice overtures repeatedly ignored by the Russians, Napoleon realized that he would have to abandon Moscow. Spurred on by a Russian attack at nearby Tarutino the next day, Napoleon left on the 19th, leading a column of 95,000 men and 500 cannons southwest out of the city. The last French troops, under Marshal Mortier, departed on the 23rd, with orders to blow up the Kremlin—a task they deliberately botched—and advance west.
23 Oct 1812 Malet coup▲
In the early morning of 23 October 1812 Claude François de Malet, a politician who had formerly been accused of conspiring against Napoleon, escaped from captivity and, disguised as a general, convinced members of the National Guard that Napoleon had died in Russia. Malet then commanded the guards to release two imprisoned republican generals and arrest a number of officials, but his attempted coup was undone when a colonel recognized him and placed him under arrest. Tried before a council of war, Malet and his co-conspirators were executed by firing squad on 29 October.
24 Oct 1812 Battle of Maloyaroslavets▲
On 19 October 1812 Napoleon began leading his army southwest of Moscow, along the old Moscow–Kaluga road, in an attempt to return to Smolensk via fresh lands. Late on the 23rd the 24,000-strong advance guard under Prince Eugene encountered an equal-sized Russian contingent along this road at Maloyaroslavets and the next day compelled it to withdraw, with both sides suffering about 8,000 casualties. After scouting the area early on the 25th and narrowly avoiding being captured by Cossacks, Napoleon decided to return north and retreat back to Smolensk along the devastated route of his advance.