Year
1812

Napoleon retreats from Moscow

One month after Napoleon Bonaparte’s massive invading force entered a burning and deserted Moscow, the starving French army is forced to begin a hasty retreat out of Russia.

Following the rejection of his Continental System by Czar Alexander I, French Emperor Napoleon I invaded Russia with his Grande Armée on June 24, 1812. The enormous army, featuring more than 500,000 soldiers and staff, was the largest European military force ever assembled to that date.

During the opening months of the invasion, Napoleon was forced to contend with a bitter Russian army in perpetual retreat. Refusing to engage Napoleon’s superior army in a full-scale confrontation, the Russians under General Mikhail Kutuzov burned everything behind them as they retreated deeper and deeper into Russia. On September 7, the indecisive Battle of Borodino was fought, in which both sides suffered terrible losses. On September 14, Napoleon arrived in Moscow intending to find supplies but instead found almost the entire population evacuated, and the Russian army retreated again. Early the next morning, fires broke across the city set by Russian patriots, and the Grande Grande Armée’s winter quarters were destroyed. After waiting a month for a surrender that never came, Napoleon, faced with the onset of the Russian winter, was forced to order his starving army out of Moscow.

During the disastrous retreat, Napoleon’s army suffered continual harassment from a suddenly aggressive and merciless Russian army. Stalked by hunger and the deadly lances of the Cossacks, the decimated army reached the Berezina River late in November but found its route blocked by the Russians. On November 26, Napoleon forced a way across at Studienka, and when the bulk of his army passed the river three days later, he was forced to burn his makeshift bridges behind him, stranding some 10,000 stragglers on the other side. From there, the retreat became a rout, and on December 8 Napoleon left what remained of his army to return to Paris with a few cohorts. Six days later, the Grande Armée finally escaped Russia, having suffered a loss of more than 400,000 men during the disastrous invasion.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Ethiopia stands alone

The League of Nations votes to impose deliberately ineffectual economic sanctions against Fascist Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia. Steps that would impede the progress of the invasion, such as banning the sale of oil to Italy and closing the Suez Canal, were not taken, out of ...read more

Guildford Four are cleared

The Guildford Four, convicted of the 1975 IRA bombings of public houses in Guildford and Woolwich, England, are cleared of all charges after nearly 15 years in prison. On October 5, 1974, an IRA bomb killed four people in a Guildford pub frequented by British military personnel, ...read more

Victory at Yorktown

Hopelessly trapped at Yorktown, Virginia, British General Lord Cornwallis surrenders 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a larger Franco-American force, effectively bringing an end to the American Revolution. Lord Cornwallis was one of the most capable British generals of the ...read more

Rocket Richard scores 500 goals

On October 19, 1957, Maurice “Rocket” Richard of the Montreal Canadiens becomes the first N.H.L. player to score 500 goals in his career when he slaps a 20-foot shot past Chicago Blackhawks goalie Glenn Hall. Richard was one of the most consistent and intimidating goal-scorers in ...read more

John le Carre is born

David Cornwell, later known as spy novelist John le Carre, is born on this day in Poole, England. Le Carre’s father was a charming, dishonest con man who ran up millions of dollars in debt, snookered friends and family on phantom deals, and spent time in jail for embezzlement. ...read more

First Blockbuster store opens

On this day in 1985, the first Blockbuster video-rental store opens, in Dallas, Texas. At a time when most video stores were small-scale operations featuring a limited selection of titles, Blockbuster opened with some 8,000 tapes displayed on shelves around the store and a ...read more

Fire sweeps through Oakland hills

On this day in 1991, a fire begins in the hills of Oakland, California. It went on to burnthousands of homes and kill 25 people. Despite the fact that fires had ravaged the same area three times earlier in the century, people continued to build homes there. Fires had previously ...read more

John DeLorean is arrested for drug dealing

Maverick automobile executive John DeLorean is arrested in a Los Angeles, California, airport motel with a briefcase containing $24 million dollars worth of cocaine. According to authorities, DeLorean was attempting to make a mammoth drug deal in order to rescue his financially ...read more

The first Cold War world’s fair closes

In Brussels, Belgium, the first world’s fair held since before World War II closes its doors, after nearly 42 million people have visited the various exhibits. Officially called the Brussels Universal and International Exhibition, the fair’s overall theme was “A World View, A ...read more

Battle of Cedar Creek

Union General Philip Sheridan averts a near disaster in the Shenandoah Valley when he rallies his troops after a surprise attack by Confederate General Jubal Early and scores a major victory that almost destroys Early’s army at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia. Through the ...read more

Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown

On this day in 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis formally surrenders 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a French and American force at Yorktown, Virginia, bringing the American Revolution to a close. Previously, Cornwallis had driven General George Washington’s Patriot ...read more

First Battle of Ypres

On October 19, 1914, near the Belgian city of Ypres, Allied and German forces begin the first of what would be three battles to control the city and its advantageous positions on the north coast of Belgium during the First World War. After the German advance through Belgium and ...read more