The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleons Greatest Army by Stephan Taltybestselling author Stephan Talty tells the story of a mighty ruler and a tiny microbe, antagonists whose struggle would shape the modern world.
In the spring of 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his powers. Forty-five million called him emperor, and he commanded a nation that was the richest, most cultured, and advanced on earth. No army could stand against his impeccably trained, brilliantly led forces, and his continued sweep across Europe seemed inevitable.
Early that year, bolstered by his successes, Napoleon turned his attentions toward Moscow, helming the largest invasion in human history. Surely, Tsar Alexander’s outnumbered troops would crumble against this mighty force.
But another powerful and ancient enemy awaited Napoleon’s men in the Russian steppes. Virulent and swift, this microscopic foe would bring the emperor to his knees.
Even as the Russians retreated before him in disarray, Napoleon found his army disappearing, his frantic doctors powerless to explain what had struck down a hundred thousand soldiers. The emperor’s vaunted military brilliance suddenly seemed useless, and when the Russians put their own occupied capital to the torch, the campaign became a desperate race through the frozen landscape as troops continued to die by the thousands. Through it all, with tragic heroism, Napoleon’s disease-ravaged, freezing, starving men somehow rallied, again and again, to cries of “Vive l’Empereur!”
Yet Talty’s sweeping tale takes us far beyond the doomed heroics and bloody clashes of the battlefield. The Illustrious Dead delves deep into the origins of the pathogen that finally ended the mighty emperor’s dreams of world conquest and exposes this “war plague’s” hidden role throughout history. A tale of two unstoppable forces meeting on the road to Moscow in an epic clash of killer microbe and peerless army, The Illustrious Dead is a historical whodunit in which a million lives hang in the balance.
French invasion of Russia
Despite tactical successes on the battlefield, he was soundly beaten strategically. The Russians withdrew, scorching the ground behind them. The French were left without supplies or shelter as a harsh winter closed in. Pursued by the Russians, they retreated with enormous losses. Meanwhile, the British, Portuguese and Spanish continued to push back French forces in the Iberian Peninsula, the other front on which Napoleon could have deployed his troops. Napoleon had reasons for going to war with Russia. Within the logic of his strategy for domination of Europe, the campaign became all but inevitable.
Napoleon failed to conquer Russia in for several reasons: faulty logistics, poor discipline, disease, and not the least, the weather. Napoleon's method of warfare was based on rapid concentration of his forces at a key place to destroy his enemy. This boiled down to moving his men as fast as possible to the place they were needed the most. To do this Napoleon would advance his army along several avenues and converging them only when necessary. The slowest part of any army at the time was the supply trains. While a soldier could march 15 - 20 miles a day, a supply wagon was generally limited to about 10 - 12 miles a day.
Why Did So Much of Napoleon's Family Come to America?
Russian victory . Napoleon named the campaign the Second Polish War to gain favor with the Poles and to provide a political pretext for his actions. It was the largest army ever known to have been assembled in the history of warfare up to that point. Napoleon hoped this battle would win the war for him, but the Russian army slipped away and continued to retreat, leaving Smolensk to burn. The following Battle of Borodino , the bloodiest single-day action of the Napoleonic Wars , with 72, casualties, resulted in a narrow French victory.
After taking power in , French leader Napoleon Bonaparte won a string of military victories that gave him control over most of Europe. He annexed present-day Belgium and Holland, along with large chunks of present-day Italy, Croatia and Germany, and he set up dependencies in Switzerland, Poland and various German states. Spain was largely under his hegemony despite continuing guerilla warfare there, and Austria, Prussia and Russia had been browbeaten into becoming allies. Only Great Britain remained completely outside of his grasp. In Napoleon decided to punish the British with an embargo that became known as the Continental System.
This post follows on from this one on the military aspects of the actual invasion. Charles Esdaile argues that Napoleon damaged Franco-Russian relations by making too many demands of his ally. He wanted Russia to send troops to the West, and away from Serbia and the Danube, where Russia was fighting the latest in a long series of wars with the Ottoman Empire. Poland had been first weakened and then destroyed after its territories were partitioned by Austria, Prussia and Russia in , and The Treaty of Tilsit between France and Prussia in had established the Grand Duchy of Warsaw as a French satellite; it consisted of most of the former parts of Poland annexed by Prussia. In it was expanded by the addition of territory taken over by Austria.