|French occupation of Moscow|
|Part of the French invasion of Russia|
The fire of Moscow 1813 by Alexander Smirnov
Moscow was occupied on 14 September 1812 by French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte's Grande Armée during the Napoleonic Wars. It marked the summit of the French invasion of Russia. During the occupation, which lasted 36 days, the city was devastated by fire for six days, and looted.
After continuing Barclay's "delaying operation", defined as "An operation in which a force under pressure trades space for time by slowing down the enemy's momentum and inflicting maximum damage on the enemy without, in principle, becoming decisively engaged" up to the Battle of Borodino as part of his attrition warfare Kutuzov used Fyodor Rostopchin to burn Moscow's resources as part of a scorched earth strategy, guerilla warfare by the Cossacks against French supplies and total war by the peasants against foraging. This kind of war weakened the French army at its most vulnerable point: logistics. "An army marches on its stomach" says Riehn. On 19 October 1812 after the lost Battle of Tarutino the French army, weakened by attrition and lacking provisions, having warned by the first snow, abandoned the city voluntarily.
Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov's Russian army suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Borodino on 7 September 1812. Before dawn of 8 September, Kutuzov ordered a retreat from Borodino eastwards to preserve the army. They camped outside Mozhaysk. On 10 September, the main quarter of the Russian army was situated in Bolshiye Vyazyomy. The owner was Dmitry Golitsyn, one of his generals. Russian sources suggest Mikhail Kutuzov wrote a number of orders and letters to Fyodor Rostopchin about saving the city or the army. On 11 September Napoleon wrote Marshal Victor to hurry to Moscow. On 12 September [O.S. 31 August] 1812 the main forces of Kutuzov departed from the village, now Golitsyno and camped near Odintsovo, 20 km to the west, followed by Mortier and Joachim Murat's vanguard. On 12 September Napoleon Bonaparte, who suffered from a cold and lost his voice, slept in the main manor house of Bolshiye Vyazyomy (on the same sofa in the library) within one day. On 13 September Napoleon left the manor house and headed east. Napoleon and Poniatovsky also camped near Odintsovo and invited Murat for dinner. In the afternoon Russian army commanders met at the village of Fili near Moscow. After a long discussion Kutuzov followed the advice of Karl Tol to retreat to the south what yielded great results later on leading to the Battle of Maloyaroslavets with a reinforced Russian army.
...it must be remembered that from the start Kutuzov thought that this battle was unneccessary...The old fox indeed! He knew exactly what he was doing...and subsequent events were to prove him right...in view of all this it is difficult to find fault within either Kutuzov's words or his actions. The wily old campaigner knew no matter how bad the situation might look in the short run, his estimate would be correct in the long run. The short and the long: These concepts serve splendidly in describing the difference between Napoleon and Kutuzov. Napoleon was the master of the short run, but Kutuzov understood the long 
General Mikhail Miloradovich, commander of the Russian rearguard, was concerned by the disposition of the army; it was stretched across Moscow, burdened with a large number of wounded and numerous convoys. Miloradovich sent Captain Fyodor Akinfov, of the Hussar Regiment's Life Guards, to open negotiations with Marshal Joachim Murat, commander of the French vanguard. Akinfov would deliver note signed by Colonel Paisiy Kaysarov, the duty general of the General Staff of the Russian Army, stating "the wounded left in Moscow are entrusted to the humanity of the French troops", and a verbal message from Miloradovich saying:
If the French want to occupy Moscow as a whole, they must, without advancing strongly, let us calmly leave it with artillery and a convoy; otherwise, General Miloradovich will fight to the last man before Moscow and in Moscow and, instead of Moscow, will leave the ruins.
On the morning of 14 September, Akinfov and a trumpter from Miloradovich's convoy arrived at the French line just as the French were resuming their attack with cavalry. They were received by Colonel Clément Louis Elyon de Villeneuve, of the 1st Horse-Jaeger Regiment, who sent Akinfov to General Horace François Bastien Sébastiani, commander of the II Cavalry Corps. Sébastiani's offer to deliver the note was refused; Akinfov said that he was ordered to personally deliver the note and a verbal message to Murat. The Russian delegation was sent to Murat.
Initially, Murat rejected a compromise. To the note he replied that it was "in vain to entrust the sick and wounded to the generosity of the French troops; the French in captive enemies no longer see enemies". Furthermore, Murat said that only Napoleon could stop the offensive, and sent the Russians to meet the emperor. However, Murat quickly changed changed his mind and recalled the delegation, saying that he was willing to accept Miloradovich's terms to save Moscow by advancing "as quietly" as the Russians, on the condition that the French were allowed to take the city on the same day. Murat also asked Akinfov, a native of Moscow, to persuade the city's residents to remain calm to avoid reprisals.
The Grande Armée began entering Moscow on the afternoon of 14 September, a Monday, on the heels of retreating Russian army. Cavalry from the French vanguard encountered Cossacks from of the Russian rearguard; there was no fighting, and there were displays of mutual respect.
At 14:00, Napoleon arrived at Poklonnaya Gora, 3 miles from the limits of 1812 Moscow.[a] Accompanying him was the French vanguard, arrayed in battle formation by Murat's orders. Napoleon waited for half an hour; when there was no Russian response he ordered a cannon fired to signal the advance on the city. The French advanced swiftly. Infantry and artillery began entering Moscow. French troops divided before the Dorogomilovskaya gate to enter the city through other gates.
Napoleon stopped at the city walls, the Kamer-Kollezhsky rampart, about 15 minutes away from the Dorogomilovskaya gate, to wait for a delegation from Moscow. Ten minutes later, a young man told the French that the city had been abandoned by the Russian army and population. The news was met by bewilderment, and then despondency and grief. It was not until an hour later that Napoleon resumed his procession into the city, followed by the first French cavalry into Moscow. He passed the Dorogomilovskaya Yamskaya Sloboda and stopped on the banks of the Moscow River. The vanguard crossed the river; infantry and artillery used the bridge, while cavalry forded. On the opposite bank, the army broke up into small guard detachments along the river bank and streets.
Napoleon continued on with his large retinue. He was preceded by two squadrons of horse guards at a distance of a hundred fathoms, and his uniform was austere compared to those around him. The streets were deserted. On Arbat Street, Napoleon saw only a pharmacist and his family attending to a wounded French general at a stand. At the Borovitsky gate of the Kremlin, Napoleon said of the walls with a sneer: "What a scary wall!".
In the Kremlin, just like in most private mansions, everything was in place: even the clock went on, as if the owners remained at home. A city without inhabitants was surrounded by gloomy silence. Throughout our long journey we did not meet a single local resident; the army held positions in the vicinity; some corps were placed in barracks. At three o'clock the emperor mounted his horse, traveled around the Kremlin, was in the Educational Home, visited the two most important bridges and returned to the Kremlin, where he settled in the ceremonial chambers of Emperor Alexander.
According to contemporary accounts, Napoleon ordered food to be delivered to the Kremlin by Russians - regardless of sex, age, or infirmity - instead of by horse; this was in response to the indifference that the Russians had treated his arrival. According to historian Alexander Martin, Muscovites generally left the city rather than accept the occupation. A police survey from the beginning of 1812 found 270,184 residents. According to Martin, only 6,200 civilians remained. According to Vladimir Zemtsov, 10 thousand inhabitants remained, plus 10 to 15 thousand wounded and sick Russian soldiers.
The frequency of looting by the French army and the local population increased as the occupation continued. Initially, looting was driven by wealth but later it was for food. Civilians were killed by troops. Attempts by French commanders to maintain discipline failed. The locals sometimes called the French "pagans" or "basurmans" which depicted the French as godless, as the desecration of local churches was systematically done by the French army to fill Napoleon's war chest.
Arson occurred around the city when the French entered on 14 September. The French believed that Count Fyodor Rostopchin, the Moscow governor, ordered the fires. Strong winds, starting on the night of 15-16 September and persisting for more than a day, fanned the flames across the city. A French military court shot up to 400 citizens on suspicion of arson.
The fire worsened Napoleon's mood; according to an eyewitness, he said: "What a terrible sight! It is they themselves! So many palaces! What an incredible solution! What kind of people! These are Scythians!" The intensity of the fire forced Napoleon to relocate from the Kremlin to the Petrovsky Palace early in the morning of 16 September. Count Ségur wrote:
We were surrounded by a sea of flame; it threatened all the gates leading from the Kremlin. The first attempts to get out of it were unsuccessful. Finally, an exit to the Moscow River was found under the mountain. Napoleon came out through him from the Kremlin with his retinue and the old guard. Coming closer to the fire, we did not dare to enter these waves of the sea of fire. Those who managed to get to know the city a little did not recognize the streets disappearing in smoke and ruins. However, it was necessary to decide on something, because with every moment the fire intensified more and more around us. A strong heat burned our eyes, but we could not close them and had to stare forward. The suffocating air, the hot ashes and the flame of the spiral escaping from everywhere, our breath, short, dry, constrained and suppressed by smoke. We burned our hands, trying to protect our face from the terrible heat, and cast off the sparks that showered and burned the dress.
Historian Yevgeny Tarle writes that Napoleon and his entourage travelled along the burning Arbat and then the relatively safe shores of the Moscow River.
The fire[b] raged until 18 September and destroyed most of Moscow.
Napoleon returned to the Kremlin on 18 September where he announced his intention to remain in Moscow for the winter; he believed the city still offered better facilities and provisions . He ordered defensive preparations, including the fortification of the Kremlin and the monasteries surrounding the city, and reconnaissance beyond the city. Napoleon continued to address the empire's state affairs while in Moscow.
A municipal governing body, the Moscow municipality, was created and met at the house of Chancellor Nikolai Rumyantsev on Maroseyka 17. Dulong, a merchant, was selected to lead the body; he was instructed by Quartermaster Lesseps to choose philistines and merchants to help him. The 25 members of the municipality searched for food near the city, helped the poor, and saved burning churches. The members were not punished for collaboration after the occupation because they had been conscripted. The French created a municipal police force on 12 October.
Napoleon toured the city and nearby monasteries in near-daily sojourns. He allowed General Tutolmin, the head of the Moscow Orphanage, to write to patron Empress Maria about the conditions of the pupils; he also asked Tutolmin to communicate his desire for peace to Emperor Alexander I. Tutolmin's messenger to Saint Petersburg was allowed through French lines on 18 September. Napoleon sent two other peace proposals. Ivan Yakovlev was a wealthy landowner who remained to care for his young son Alexander Herzen and the mother; he was permitted to leave for Saint Petersburg with a letter from the French to Alexander I. The last attempt was on 4 October, when General Jacques Lauriston, the pre-war ambassador to Russia, was sent to speak with Kutuzov at Tarutino; Kutuzov refused to negotiate but promised to relay proposals from Alexander I. Napoleon received no replies to any of the proposals.
Some Soviet historians (for example, Tarle) believed that Napoleon considered abolishing serfdom to pressure Alexander I and the Russian nobility.[c] The occupation caused some social unrest; there were cases of serfs declaring themselves freed from their obligations to their landlords - especially those about to flee.
Churches were not afforded special protections. Some housed stables, wood components were used as fuel, and others had their gold and silver items melted down. After the occupation, the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin was closed to the public to hide the damage:
I was overwhelmed with horror, finding this revered temple, which spared even the flame, now put upside down the godlessness of the unbridled soldier, and made sure that the state in which it was needed to be hidden from the eyes of the people. The relics of the saints were disfigured, their tombs filled with sewage; decorations from tombs are torn off. The images adorning the church were stained and split.
According to another account, rumors exaggerated the damage to churches as "most of the cathedrals, monasteries and churches were turned into guard barracks" and "no one was allowed to enter the Kremlin under Napoleon".[d] The Russians hid some items before abandoning the city; Alexander Shakhovskoy writes: "In the Miracle Monastery there was no shrine of Saint Alexei, it was taken out and hidden by Russian piety, as well as the relics of Saint Tsarevich Demetrius, and I found only one cotton paper in the tomb".
It was impossible to adequately provision the Grande Armée in a burnt city, with guerilla warfare by the Cossacks against French supplies and a total war by the peasants against foraging. This kind of war weakened the French army at its most vulnerable point, logistics, having overstretched the supply lines. The campaigning to Saint Petersburg was out of the question as winter was closing in. The main French army's combat effectiveness had been further reduced by indiscipline and idleness. On 18 October, General Bennigsen's Russian force defeated at the Battle of Tarutino Murat's French force at the Chernishna River. On 18 October the Second Battle of Polotsk had begun with another defeat of the French army to follow. Napoleon finally recognized that there would be no peace agreement.
On 19 October, the main French army began moving along the Old Kaluga Road. Only Marshal Édouard Mortier's corps remaining in Moscow; Mortier was the city's Governor General. Napoleon intended to attack and defeat the Russian army, and then break out into unforaged country for provisions. That night, he made camp in the village of Troitsky on the Desna River and ordered Mortier to destroy Moscow and then rejoin the main army.
Mortier was to set fire to wine shops, barracks, and public buildings, followed by the city in general, and then the Kremlin. Gunpowder was to be placed under the Kremlin walls, which would explode after the French left the city. There was only time to partially destroy the Kremlin. The Vodovzvodnaya Tower was completely destroyed; while the Nikolskaya Tower, the 1st Bezymyannaya and Petrovskaya Towers, the Kremlin wall and part of the arsenal were badly damaged. The explosion set the Palace of Facets on fire. The Ivan the Great Bell Tower, the city's tallest structure, survived demolition nearly unharmed, although the nearby Church of the Resurrection was destroyed.
During the few days he stayed at Troitsky, Napoleon decided to not risk battle with a weakened French army; he may have suspected that the retreat from Moscow would affect European opinion more than any victory. Instead the French would bypass the Russian army by turning right off the Old Kaluga Road and onto the Borovskaya Road, then travel through Maloyaroslavets and Kaluga to winter quarters at Smolensk or Vilna. The route went through the untouched Kaluga Governorate to the south-west. Napoleon could then resume the war with Russia.
The Russian army's cavalry vanguard, commanded by General Ferdinand von Wintzingerode, was the first to re-enter the city. Wintzingerode was captured by Mortier's troops, and command fell to General Alexander von Benckendorff. On 26 October, Benckendorf wrote to General Mikhail Vorontsov:
We entered Moscow on the evening of the 11th.[e] The city was given for plunder to peasants, who flocked a great many, and all drunk; Cossacks and their foremen completed the rout. Entering the city with hussars and life-Cossacks, I considered it a duty to immediately take command over the police units of the unfortunate capital: people killed each other on the streets, set fire to houses. Finally, everything calmed down and the fire was extinguished. I had to endure several real battles.
The peasants near Moscow, of course, are the most idle and quick-witted, but the most depraved and greedy in all of Russia, assured of the enemy's exit from Moscow and relying on the turmoil of our entry, arrived on carts to capture the unlawed, but Count Benckendorf calculated differently and ordered to be loaded onto their carts and carrion and taken out of town to places convenient for burial or extermination, which saved Moscow from the infection, its inhabitants from peasant robbery, and peasants from sin.
In a report to Rostopchin dated 16 October[e] from Ivashkin, the chief of the Moscow police, estimated that 11,959 human and 12,546 horse corpses were removed from the streets. Upon returning to the city, Rostopchin announced that looters could keep their goods but that victims should be compensated. According to Vladimir Gilyarovsky, the next Sunday market near the Sukharev Tower was filled with looted goods. The imperial manifesto of 30 August 1814 granted amnesty for most crimes committed during the invasion.