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The Burning of Moscow (Hardback)

Napoleon's Trial by Fire 1812

Military > Pre-WWI > Napoleonic

By Dr Alexander Mikaberidze
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 264
ISBN: 9781781593523
Published: 11th February 2014



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As soon as Napoleon and his Grand Army entered Moscow, on 14 September 1812, the capital erupted in flames that eventually engulfed and destroyed two thirds of the city. The fiery devastation had a profound effect on the Grand Army, but for thirty-five days Napoleon stayed, making increasingly desperate efforts to achieve peace with Russia. Then, in October, almost surrounded by the Russians and with winter fast approaching, he abandoned the capital and embarked on the long, bitter retreat that destroyed his army. The month-long stay in Moscow was a pivotal moment in the war of 1812 – the moment when the initiative swung towards the Tsar's armies and spelled doom for the invading Grand Army – yet it has rarely been studied in the same depth as the other key events of the campaign.

Alexander Mikaberidze, in this third volume of his in-depth reassessment of the war between the French and Russian empires, emphasizes the importance of the Moscow fire and shows how Russian intransigence sealed the fate of the French army. He uses a vast array of French, German, Polish and Russian memoirs, letters and diaries as well as archival material in order to tell the dramatic story of the Moscow fire. Not only does he provide a comprehensive account of events, looking at them from both the French and Russian points of view, but he explores the Russians' motives for leaving, then burning their capital. Using extensive eyewitness accounts, he paints a vivid picture of the harsh reality of life in the remains of the occupied city and describes military operations around Moscow at this turning point in the campaign.

Napoleon's entry into Moscow can be described as the apex of his life. From that point on, everything went wrong, despite his heroic efforts to reverse the tide. Mikaberidze's book is therefore an important book, covering that critical moment. It's also a fascinating book. Not for the first time, Alexander Mikaberidze has written a book that you must read.

The Napoleonic Historical Society

A number of good titles have been published in recent years that deal with Napoleon's disastrous campaign against Russia in 1812. However, few have considered in any great detail the conflagration that engulfed Moscow, all but destroying what was one of Europe's greatest cities of the time. Indeed most historians concentrate on the following destruction of the Grand Army, as it desperately attempted to retreat through the harrowing Russian winter while under almost constant harassment from the enemy. Thankfully Dr Alexander Mikaberidze, Professor of History at Louisiana State University, Shreveport, has now filled this glaring gap with one of the most extensive and interesting studies in recent decades.

Although authored by an academic, this book is written in an easy to read style without recourse to the overly academic language that can so often bore the reader. It is obvious throughout the work that Mikaberidze has extensively researched his subject, and can quite rightly claim to b an authority on the subject. The book does not cover the campaign before the capture of Moscow in any detail, nor does it examine the terrifying retreat that consumed so much of the Grand Army afterwards. However, this is in itself a strength since it allows the author to properly examine the actual events of the great fire, which is exactly what the book set out to do. Overall this title wholeheartedly deserves a five out of five star rating, and should occupy a space in the library of anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars.

Mark Simner

This book provides a detailed account of the burning of Moscow...a work of scholarship written in a lively style.

Dr Alexander Mikaberidze

About Dr Alexander Mikaberidze

Alexander Mikaberidze is Professor of History and the Ruth Herring Noel Endowed Chair at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is an internationally acclaimed historian of the Napoleonic Wars, and the author and editor of two dozen books, including The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History (Oxford, 2020) and a trilogy on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

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