It’s been a while since I’ve lived up to the “Historical” part of “Heather’s Historical Hodgepodge”. September 14 is a very important day, not only in our history, but in the fictional history of the three heroes in my Regency series, who were all soldiers in the Napoleonic wars. You see, September 14th, 1812 marked the turning point in that war and therefore, is the perfect day to rectify my appalling lack of historical posts.
198 years ago today, a victorious Napoleon invaded Moscow expecting to be met at the gates by a delegation from the city. He’d been chasing and defeating the Russian army for months, and now, expected their capitulation and the surrender of Czar Alexander. It was customary for the leaders of a captured city to greet their victor with a key to the city (a traditional symbolic gesture that was meant as a negotiation to keep the population and the city’s property safe from the victorious invaders) and, as part of their surrender, make arrangements to feed and house the invading army.
Instead, Napoleon found the glorious city of Moscow deserted. The majority of the 275,000 citizens had evacuated completely, taking with them every bit of food and supplies they could, stripping the city of anything the French expected to revive themselves with, leaving them to break and scavenge.
Shortly after midnight, fires broke out all over the city—some say started by Russian patriots set on destroying or scorching anything that might help the French, some (like Tolstoy) say by the inept French soldiers carelessly setting fires to warm themselves without taking in account that most of the close buildings were made of wood. Either way, a firestorm erupted and in the end, Napoleon had to flee through burning streets to escape. When the fires went out days later, at least 2/3 of Moscow lay in ruins and Napoleon and his Grande Armée had been robbed of their traditional victory as well as whatever food and supplies the city might have offered.
Czar Alexander said that the burning of Moscow “illuminated his soul,” and the leader surprised Napoleon again by refusing to surrender. A month later, unable to replenish supplies and with his men starving, Napoleon gave up and led his army out of the ruined city.
Many factors contributed to what happened next, but more than 400,000 French soldiers never survived their disastrous journey home. The rest of Europe took advantage of this failure and banded together to turn the tide, ultimately defeating Napoleon once and for all.
Still, it’s very sad that so much history and human life had to be lost in order to bring about something that was ultimately for the good, and as such, I can't think of a cheerful question to end this blog post with, so feel free to just comment at will.
See you next week, and as always, thank you for stopping by Heather's Historical Hodgepodge.