N & E
Napoleon & Empire

Battle of Berezina

Date and place

  • November 27th and 28th, 1812 near the Berezina River (now Belarus).

Involved forces

  • French army (49,000 men fighting and 40,000 late) under Emperor Napoleon I. 
  • Russian army under Tzar Alexander I, Generals Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov and Peter Wittgenstein, and Admiral Pavel Vasilievich Chichagov. 

Casualties and losses

  • Grande Armée: 30,000 to 45,000 men (most of them have not been direct victims of the fighting or even have not participated). 
  • Russian Army: more than 10,000 soldiers. 

General situation

The army of Napoleon I, in retreat after the disastrous Russian Campaign, saw on November 23, 1812 its route blocked by the Berezina [Бярэзіна], a marshy river. The Russian troops intended to push the French against this obstacle and annihilate them.

Salvation came through the very rapid construction of two bridges facing the village of Studianka [Студзёнка] [54.32604, 28.35336], 15 kilometers upstream of the city of Borissov [Барысаў] [54.245223, 28.50443], by the pontonniers of General Jean-Baptiste Éblé, most of whom succumbing to this work in the icy water.

The Grande Armée began crossing the Berezina River from the 26th in the early afternoon, despite the opposition of the three Russian armies commanded respectively by:

  1. Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov (Михаил Илларионович Голенищев- Кутузов)
  2. Pyotr Christianovich Wittgenstein (Пётр Христиа́нович Ви́тгенштейнPyotr Christianovich Wittgenstein
  3. Pavel Vasilievich Chichagov (Па́вел Васи́льевич Чича́говPavel Vasilievich Chichagov

The battle

The Russians attacked on the 28th, but faced fierce resistance, in particular from the men of Marshal Victor, Duke of Belluno and the horsemen of General François Louis Fournier-Sarlovèze François Louis Fournier-Sarloveze.

The night saw several thousand men crossing, but Eblé had to destroy the bridges on the morning of the 29th, to protect the retreat, while many stragglers still remained on the left bank.

Aftermath

The crossing of the Bérézina by the French was an undeniable military success, but the name of this river has become synonymous in France with rout, even disaster, due to the importance of the losses suffered: of the order of forty- five thousand dead or prisoners.

Map of the battle of Berezina

Napoleonic Battles - Map of the battle of Berezina

Picture - "Przejscie wojsk Napoleona przez Berezyne - Napoleon crossing the Berezina River". Painted in 1866 by January Suchodolski.

Napoleonic Battles - Picture of the battle of Berezina -

Photos Credits

 Photo of Lionel A. Bouchon Photos by Lionel A. Bouchon.
 Photo of Marie-Albe Grau Photos by Marie-Albe Grau.
 Photo of Floriane Grau Photos by Floriane Grau.
 Photo of Michèle Grau-Ghelardi Photos by Michèle Grau-Ghelardi.
 Photo of Didier Grau Photos by Didier Grau.
 Photo of various authors Photos made by people outside the Napoleon & Empire association.