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Great Moments in History

200 years ago today, Napoleon led the Grande Armee across the Nieman River into Russia.  Composed of troops from all over Europe, the Armee is believed to have been the largest military force ever assembled up to that time.

800,000 went in; about 120,000 came out, of whom only 35,000 were French.

The best eyewitness account: Philippe de Segur’s Defeat.

Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

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  • Luke Lea

    I read that typhus was the biggest enemy.

  • vanderleun

    Napoleon’s biggest strategic mistake was leading the Grand Armee in over the Nieman-Marcus River. That way they could have all done a little shopping and gone home.

  • Aron Matskin

    That’s June 22, 1941. Not 1942.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Aron. Good point! No cookies for the interns today.

  • Ed Snyder

    Didn’t “Barbarossa” start in 1941?

  • Stephen Hartshorne

    Armand de Caulaincourt, his master of horse, wrote a detailed account of the campaign. He rode home with Napoleon in the famous Berlin coach. He tried to persuage Napoleon not to invade Russia. Then he tried to persuade him to leave Moscow three weeks earlier. You can just hearing him say to himself, “Imbecile!”

  • Kris

    Yep, the Good Ole Rodina. Invaders may check in, but they don’t check out.

    Had Barbarossa started in 1942, now that would have been a blitzkrieg!

  • JLK

    Dr Mead

    Brbarossa started:
    0300 June 22 1941.

    Sorry …..know it’s a typo but I am nitpicky about historical dates.


  • JLK

    Then I misspell Barbarossa.Sheesh


    • Walter Russell Mead

      @JLK and others: The interns will be attending fact checking and proof reading classes instead of lunch for the next three weeks. Senior management will be on retreat in Los Cabos to plan new stock option disbursal.

  • Lexington Green

    I read Caulaincourt’s memoir of the Retreat from Moscow a few years ago, and it was excellent. Thanks for the tip on Segur. There is a free version on Project Gutenberg which is nicely formatted for Kindle — and it is now on my phone!

  • Kris

    “Senior management will be on retreat”

    So were those mentioned in the original post.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Kris: we plan to have better refreshments and warmer surroundings.

  • vanderleun

    I recommend the squatting chicken at the Giggling Marlin and the hyrdropowered tequila shots at Squid Roee.

  • Kris

    WRM@13: True, but on the other hand, they did not have to face the promethean ordeal of withering criticism from blog commenters. It’s a hard knock life, even for the Lord of the stately mansion.

  • Jim.

    For those who like graphics better:

    This expresses rather neatly how Napoleon turned a very large army into a very small one.

    Even to this day, the French army has never recovered… it may reinforce, it may modernize, but it still hasn’t broken its string of post-1812 defeats.

  • Luke Lea

    Here is the typhus angle:

  • DrMaturin


    I read that book. The author makes a compelling case.

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