Battle of Smolensk (1812)

The Battle of Smolensk, the first major battle of the French invasion of Russia took place on August 16–18, 1812. The battle involved between 175,000 men of the Grande Armée under Napoleon Bonaparte and 130,000 Russians under Barclay de Tolly. About 50,000 and 60,000 soldiers respectively were actually engaged. Napoleon attacked Smolensk occupied by Russian General Bagration's corps and captured two of the suburbs. During the night the Russians evacuated the burning city. [2]

The Battle of Smolensk is commemorated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Warsaw, with the inscription "SMOLENSK 17 VIII 1812".

Prelude

Initially the Russians employed hit and run tactics against the Grande Armée. Napoleon therefore devised the Smolensk Manoeuvre in an attempt to sweep behind the enemy and inflict a decisive defeat. On August 14, 1812 forces under the command of Joachim Murat, Marshal Davout, and Michel Ney crossed the Dnieper River at Rassna using bridges constructed overnight.

The plan was to race toward the city, taking it without a fight, and march north to attack the rear of the main Russian forces under the overall command of General Barclay de Tolly. On the Russian side, conflicting orders and a breakdown in communication had led Bagration to disobey orders and instead of marching west, he occupied Smolensk to the south. By August 16, French forces found the city heavily garrisoned by Bagration's troops, further reinforced with the subsequent arrival of Barclay and the main Russian army.