Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile, 20 East Chestnut Street, Chicago, Illinois, Jean-Paul Viguier.
The hotel opened in May 2002 with 415 rooms and its dramatic French architecture made an immediate impression not only on the city’s denizens and visitors but much of the world. Jean-Paul Viguier (born 1946) is a leading modern Paris-based French architect. In 2003 his Sofitel Chicago Water Tower (renamed the Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile) was chosen by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects as the “best new building in Chicago in the last ten years.”
The prism-shaped, 350,000-square-foot structure was chosen by nearly 350 established Chicago-based architects as one of the city’s most outstanding achievements in architecture. The glass triangular tower ascends and thrusts over the intersection of Chestnut and Wabash Streets. Narrowing as it rises, the shape could evoke a ship’s prow—or a geometer’s trapazoid. Its expansive facades allow generous exposures of natural light as it faces east to capture sunrise over the incredible natural backdrop of Lake Michigan and southwest towards the timeless Midwestern prairie. Adding to the building’s drama and welcome grace is its exterior of horizontal cladding of visible and opaque glass in synergy with the verticality of the building’s wedge and curve. Inside, the lobby continues this building’s dramatic modernity presenting a steely structural space that is airy, sleek, and soaring.
Mr. Viguier was selected to design Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile during a design competition in 1998 judged by Accor hotels leadership and others. Mr. Viguier is a member of the INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY OF ARCHITECTURE (IAA) and was president of AFEX (French Architects Overseas) from 1999 to 2002.
Mr. Viguier’s other internationally recognized projects include the France Televisions headquarters in Paris as well as the Cœur Défense in 2001 and the Tour Majunja in 2014 both in La Défense, France. The French architect built a two story expansion at the McNay Museum of Modern Art in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Viguier is also architect for the Maroc Telecom Tower in Rabat, Morocco in 2013, and, in 2015, the SFR Campus in Saint-Denis, France. Another highly regarded project is, in 2013, the Cancer University Institute in Toulouse, France.
The Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile is also listed at no. 82 in a public poll of 150 buildings of “America’s Favorite Architecture.” The poll was conducted by The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Harris Interactive and in conjunction with the AIA’s 150th anniversary in 2007.
In 2005, Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile received the MIPIM AWARD at their international meeting of property market sector leaders gathering in Cannes, France.
The photograph was taken on June 14, 2014 at State and Chestnut Streets.
Helmut Jahn was famous in Chicago and around the world for his prolific postmodern architecture particularly his work in steel and glass.
Born in Germany near Nuremberg, in 1940, Jahn graduated from Technische Hochschule in Munich and moved to Chicago in 1966. Jahn arrived in Chicago just as “downtown development” during the administration of Mayor Richard J. Daley (1902-1976) was finding its greatest momentum. Jahn began to study under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and, in 1967, joined Charles (C.F.) Murphy Associates which later became Murphy/Jahn. The younger man would carry on the powerful influence and energy of these Chicago personalities for building big, creatively, and prolifically for the next fifty years into the first quarter of the 21st century. Jahn would add his own significant contribution and footprint in Chicago and around the nation and world in those same long years of his activity.
One of Jahn’s early projects in his first years in Chicago was McCormick Place. The original concrete and steel permanent exposition hall on the lakefront that opened in 1960 was destroyed in a fire in January 1967, just as Jahn was starting to work as a professional architect. Named for Col. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper owner and publisher had boosted the idea of a permanent exposition hall on Chicago’s lakefront for years prior to his death in 1955.
Jahn had come to Chicago at an exciting time to be building there — during Jahn’s first years in Chicago the John Hancock Building was completed in 1969 and the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the world for the next 24 years, was completed in 1974. In 1971, C.F. Murphy completed the new and massive McCormick Place, a powerful steel and glass structure with enormous cantilever eaves, on the same lakefront site as the old exposition hall. Out of that single successful building project, Helmut Jahn and the rest of the world saw the significant development in Chicago that would blossom around this important and functional modern architecture over ensuing decades — including the North building constructed across Lake Shore Drive in 1986; the South building built in 1996; a hotel built in 1998; the massive West building built in 2007; and, in 2017, the Wintrust Arena.
In the mid 1980’s one of Jahn’s most significant creations was the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. Aesthetically grandiose and controversial, the “State of Illinois Building” was put up for sale in 2021 by the administration of Governor J.B. Pritzker, citing its historically high operating and maintenance costs.
Mixed reviews for Helmut Jahn’s massive semi-circular Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph completed in 1985. The criticism begins at its entrance where Jahn saw placed “Outsider” French artist Jean Dubuffet’s fiberglass Monument with Standing Beast. During the building’s planning and construction some of the architect’s dazzling concepts met with resistance from contractors. For example, the contractors prevailed against Jahn’s idea for a completely locked-down outer skin by way of using silicone glazing. In the final construction the appearance of red, white, and blue locked-down skin belies the several places throughout the design where windows are made to be opened. Inside, though its soaring 17-story atrium is airy and impressive exposing floors that hold various state bureaucracy—and signaling the state government’s day-to-day practicality towards transparency —the practicality of the new building’s heating and cooling design proved seriously problematic during Chicago’s famous summer heat and winter cold though that major issue appeared to be eventually resolved. In 2021 Jahn’s mega-structure has been put up for sale by Gov. J.B. Pritzker citing that the building costs hundreds of millions of dollars to operate and maintain.The photograph was taken by the authoron May 25, 2014.
In Chicago Jahn designed the exposed steel frame United Airlines Terminal 1 at O’Hare International Airport between 1985 and 1988. Air travelers for decades have enjoyably traversed its entertaining walkway connecting concourses that include moving sidewalks, colorful lighting and futuristic sounds.
One South Wacker Drive, 1982, Helmut Jahn. To the left is UBS Tower (1 N. Wacker) built in 2001 and to the right is Hyatt Center ( 71 S. Wacker) built in 2005. At 42 years old, Jahn spoke of his building at 1 S. Wacker as a synthesis of two major Chicago architectural styles—that of Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) and, Jahn’s mentor and fellow German, Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). The building is a concrete stepped-back 50-story building with a curtain wall of dark glass defining the vertical bands of windows. Its vision remains fresh and stunning as it sits majestically between two postmodern buildings built in Chicago a generation later. The photograph was taken by the authoron May 25, 2014.
Jahn designed the 23-story addition to the Chicago Board of Trade in 1980 and Accenture Tower at 500 W. Madison in the West Loop which opened in 1987. Across the nation and world Helmut Jahn’s fresh, grand, and innovative designs have made their way into the annals of postmodern architecture. Any complete list of Helmut Jahn’s active and completed projects extends necessarily into the many scores. A list of notable buildings could include the 1999 K St. NW, a 12-story structure, in Washington D.C. completed in 2009; the twin 37-story Veers Towers in Las Vegas, Nevada opened in 2010; and, in his native Germany, the 63-story Messeturm in Frankfurt opened in 1990 and the Sony Center, a complex of eight buildings, in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin completed in 2000. The hard-driving list goes on…and on.
Jeanne and John Rowe Village at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), 2003, Helmut Jahn. Originally called the State Street Village Dormitories, Jahn’s postmodern structure that anchors the campus to the east, consists of three five-story buildings. Jahn’s design was the first major architectural addition to the IIT campus since the early 1960’s. U.S. News & World Report called it one of the “coolest dorms in the nation.” Stretching one city block along busy State Street from 33rd to 34th Streets, Rowe Village is next to the El tracks whose Green Line zips back and forth to Chicago’s Loop. Each dorm building consists of two wings that flank an interior courtyard. The building is finished at the rear on 34th street by an insulated five-story glass wall. Entry is through the courtyard which leads into a corridor that connects the two wings.It is built of reinforced concrete with the front elevations and roof dressed in custom corrugated stainless steel panels and tinted glass framed in aluminum. The building’s sleek curvature, three compartments and chained block-long length, reflects and evokes the image of a streamlined train making for a building as Art Moderne object in the Miesian tradition.From its rooftop the Rowe Village looks north for views of Chicago’s downtown skyline while the dorm offers suite-style living in a modern setting surrounded by the mind, serious and playful, of Helmut Jahn. The photograph was taken by the authoron August 21, 2015.
At the time of his death at 81 years old on May 8, 2021 in a bike road accident in the far western suburbs of Chicago, Helmut Jahn was working on a 74-story residential building in Chicago at 1000 S. Michigan. It was scheduled to be opened in 2022 but its construction was already delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic that postponed construction. Helmut Jahn taught at IIT, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Harvard University, and Yale University. In 2012 Murphy/Jahn became JAHN and, according to a recent report from Dun & Bradstreet, the firm had a total of 55 employees and generated a little over $6 million in annual sales.
The Mentor Building, 39 S. State Street (6 E. Monroe Street), 1906, Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926) from the southwest.
A Mentor building has stood on this northeast corner of State and Monroe since 1873 when there had been a 7-story building erected here.1
Howard Van Doren Shaw’s only skyscraper presents an unusual mixture of styles.
There are windows grouped in horizontal bands between a four-level base of large showroom windows. The top is classically inspired with details that are strong and idiosyncratic. The building retains the character of its classical sources though they are used as large-scale motifs.2
Shaw’s 1906 building is 17 stories high with two basements on rock caissons.3
The photograph was taken on July 5, 2015.
1 Frank A. Randall, History of Development of Building Construction in Chicago, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded by John D. Randall, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1999, p, 196.
2 Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 59.
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Major facts of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) are well known. Known as Napoleon I, the French Emperor who died two centuries ago was a shrewd, ambitious and skilled military leader who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century.
Born on the island of Corsica that had recently handed authority from Italy to France, Napoleon rose rapidly in the French military during the unsettled period of the French Revolution after 1789 and until 30-year-old Napoleon seized power in a coup d’état in 1799.
In 1804 Napoleon crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in the presence of the pope. In the next decade Napoleon successfully waged war against various coalitions of European nations and expanded his empire. Following his disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 explored in some detail in this post, Napoleon abdicated his throne in 1814 and was exiled to the island of Elba not far from his native Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy.
In 1815, he escaped Elba and returned to France where he briefly returned to power in his Hundred Days campaign. He received a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in today’s Belgium and was exiled until his death on May 5, 1821 to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon Bonaparte was just 51 years old at the time of his death stemming from mysterious circumstances, though likely something such as stomach cancer.1
Napoleon on St. Helena, Franz Josef Sandmann (1805-1856), c. 1820. Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau.
The bicentenary of the death of Napoleon I is commemorated in 2021. The former French emperor died on May 5, 1821 on the island of Saint Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean nearly halfway between the continents of Africa and South America. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there in 1815 following his defeat at Waterloo. The British government selected it for the former French emperor’s place of exile after he escaped from Elba, the initial location of his forced exile. Napoleon lived on St. Helena for about 6 years; a hunk of rocky mass reachable only by sea. He died there at Longwood House, his permanent residencethat was completed for him in December 1815. Today there is an airport on St. Helena built in 2011. Napoleon was 51 years old at his death and was buried on St. Helena. In 1840 his remains were transferred, not without controversy, to France. Napoleon’s tomb is in Les Invalides, the military hospital in Paris whose construction was begun by Louis XIV (1638-1715).
Napoleon’s plaster death mask, known as the Malmaison mask, May 1821.
Longwood House on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic.
In 1858, French emperor Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, purchased the house and various other lands associated with Napoleon I on the island in the name of the French government. Though Napoleon’s remains had been returned to France in 1840 – they rest today in Paris at Les Invalides – Napoleon III’s purchase remains the property of France and is administered by a French representative under the authority of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Photo: “Longwood House (c) St Helena Tourism” by sthelenatourism is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
Three years earlier, during the War of 1812, world domination by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was done within a sagging, uncooperative economy in Europe. France had 300,000 French troops and a rafter of French generals occupying Spain to keep the blockaded British from invading. Napoleon, in a near constant state of war since 1793, had created an Empire whose subjected parts didn’t fully cooperate. With competing objectives—had he finally overextended his capacities?—Napoleon had to choose between potentially losing his blockade in Spain or in Russia.
Since the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 following the Battle of Friedland where Napoleon defeated the Russian army, Russia had still been trading with England. It was this violation of the treaty that was the pretext for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Though fifteen hundred miles away, Russia’s autonomy from the French dictator—along with a temptation to dominate some of Russia’s vast territory for future ventures—beckoned Napoleon to shut it down and take firm control. For Russia, Napoleon’s invasion required the defense of their homeland.
FRESH CONSCRIPTS FOR A NEW WAR-AND THE NEED TO SUPPLY A MILITARY HOST OF 700,000 SOLDIERS
To animate Napoleon’s newest military campaign, he needed more fresh conscripts—but nearly a third of Napoleon’s French draftees failed to appear. Many of Napoleon’s generals advised the dictator to stay home, in Paris, and enjoy his spoils. An ambitious and autocratic Napoleon refused. He explained that rest was not possible if he was to fulfill the dream to form a United States of Europe.2
Overcoming the lay-abouts, Napoleon assembled a military host of nearly 700,000 men and faced the exponentially monumental task to supply it. For years Napoleon stockpiled materials along the route to Russia. He also arranged for supplies to be delivered once into Russia. But Napoleon’s vision of universal dominion had been stretched to the breaking point—and the French Emperor, if not those who served him, realized the risk.
Napoleon left St. Cloud for Moscow in June 1812 for a high stakes gamble which involved not only the rise and fall of one man but the many inhabitants of the Empire.
Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891), Campaign of France, 1814, 1864. Oil on wood, 51.5 x 76.5 cm, Paris, Musée d’Orsay.
Ernest Meissonier’s Campaign of France, 1814, was his first painting produced in a cycle of Napoleon’s conquests. Though the episode Meissonier depicts was painted for the fiftieth anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion of France from Elba in 1814, it captures the overall desolation that surrounded the former French Emperor by the time of his invasion of Russia in 1812.
The series made by the 49-year-old artist, an admirer of Seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch small-format painting, captures the desolate landscape the Grande Armée endured and their solitary, unusually unkempt, and virtually tenuous figure of Napoleon leading the General Staff and troops in an over-extended military campaign that spelled defeat.
For the painting, the artist’s imagination was informed by historical documentation including interviews of surviving eyewitnesses, including the detail of, in 1814, the Emperor’s grey coat. The realist style was a prevailing aspect of mid-19th century artistic taste in the Second Empire headed by Napoleon III, a nephew of Napoleon I, from 1852 to 1870.
From Paris to Vilna in Lithuania was a 1200-miles march. Yet the object of Napoleon’s campaign, the Russian army, had retreated. It was another 550-mile march towards Moscow. French troops found themselves unexpectedly suffering from distant or nonexistent supply lines. The reluctant new conscripts and battle-hardened veterans were sick and exhausted.
In the battle of Smolensk, the French invaders—viewed by some to be battling for strongman Napoleon’s united liberal Europe over petty church and small state autocrats—set the town on fire. Yet Napoleon’s criminal reputation preceded him: he murdered without mercy and often donned the smock of treachery. Not only royalists criticized him but articulate liberals like Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and Chateaubriand (1768-1848) who saw in the emperor an enemy of liberty. Chateaubriand wrote: “Les Français vont indistinctement au pouvoir, ils n’aiment pas la liberté, l’égalité est leur idole. Or l’égalité et le despotisme ont des liaisons secrètes” (“The French go to power indiscriminately, they don’t like liberty, equality is their idol. But equality and despotism have secret links.”) Reactionary French historian and journalist Jacques Bainville (1879-1936) assessed Napoleon’s legacy in this way: “Sauf pour la gloire, sauf pour l’art, il eut mieux valu qu’il n’eut pas existé.” (“Except for the glory, except for the art, it would have been better if he did not exist.”)
With casualties for one battle climbing to around 15,000 for both sides, the Czar appointed Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813) as commander of all Russian forces to coordinate efforts.
Portrait of Mikhail Kutuzov, 1829, George Dawe (1781–1829). Oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace War Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Napoleon called Kutuzov, “The sly old fox of the north“ (cited in Roger Parkinson, The Fox of the North, 1976).
At 67 years old, Kutuzov was lazy and lecherous, but knew how to fight—and, regarding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, how to retreat strategically. The grand designs of modern internationalism and unification were ancient and medieval dreams that had proved difficult to implement in geo-political reality and usually led to its own forms of disaster and oppression. In a contest of geopolitical ideas, holing up in eternal Mother Russia provided its military advantages over an invading force set upon international commonwealth by way of military domination. In an address to his troops before the Battle of Borodino in the War of 1812 General Kutuzov observed: “Napoleon is a torrent which as yet we are unable to stem. Moscow will be the sponge that will suck him dry.”3
BATTLE OF BORODINO, SEPTEMBER 7, 1812, WAS A CONTEST OF 242,000 COMBATANTS AND MORE THAN 1000 BIG GUNS
Napoleon was aware of the trap. The years-long planning for an invasion supply chain was no match for the conditions on the ground. The failures of the supply chain left the army and its dictator high and dry. Napoleon ordered the troops to keep marching, telling his generals: “Motion alone keeps this army together.”4
The march from Smolensk to Moscow took 3 weeks. Many soldiers of the Grande Armée died on the march east. Kutuzov was preparing for battle. The Russian general set up a defensive position in Borodino, about 70 miles west of Moscow. On Sept. 7, 1812, French forces engaged the Russians. Both sides were well matched: the French possessed 587 guns and 130,000 troops and the Russians deployed 640 guns and 112,000 troops with the vast expanse of Mother Russia at their back.
Battle of Moscow (or Borodino), the Capture of the Great Redoubt. Engraving by unknown artist, 1820’s. State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.
Battle of Moscow (or Battle of Borodino) in 1812. Attack of the Lithuanian Life Guards Regiment, oil on canvas, 1912, Nikolay Semyonovich Samokish (1860-1944).State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.
General Uvarov at Borodino, Auguste-Joseph Desarnod (1788-1840), State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
In the War of 1812 Fedor Petrovich Uvarov (1769 -1824) commanded the 1st Cavalry Corps and then the Cavalry of the 1st and 2nd Russian Armies. With the Cossacks of Matvei Platov (1753-1818), Uvarov distinguished himself in the Battle of Borodino when he turned the left flank of the French army and made a raid to its rear. The Russian attack of the main French forces delayed Napoleon’s battle plans for two crucial hours.
Napoleon near Borodino, Vasily Vereshchagin (1842–1904), 1897, oil on canvas, State Historical Museum, Moscow.
The image of a sullen dictator seated on his field chair with boots raised onto a battle drum, as his General Staff views in their spyglasses the men of the Grande Armée in harm’s way at the Battle of Borodino, can be seen as indicative of Napoleon’s exercise of arbitrary power as the first of modern history’s tyrants.
Hanging over the battlefield was the feeling that the destiny of Europe—whether united under Napoleon or giving space to a later attempt at a balance of powers– depended on these warriors. The battle’s outcome was a draw. The French remained master of the field but the Russians retreated to fight another day. It was one more day of immense military slaughter—the combined French and Russians losses was 80,000 soldiers—a full third of the total.
Battle of Borodino, 7th September 1812, 1822, Louis-Francois Lejeune (1775-1848).
In the French invasion of Russia in 1812, Lejeune was made général de brigade and chief of staff to Davout (1770-1823). During the retreat, Lejeune was frostbitten on the face and left his post where he was subsequently arrested on Napoleon’s orders.
During his military service, Lejeune produced a series of important battle-pictures based on his experiences. They were generally executed from sketches and studies made on the battlefield. Known for their lofty perspective which, according to Chase Maenius in The Art of War[s], “offer[ed] a panoramic view of the totality of the battle’s events,” the Battle of Borodino… of 1822 is considered his masterwork.
When Lejeune’s battle-pictures were shown in London, they were met by eager crowds who viewed them for their realistic and detailed depictions of significant contemporary events.
In his Memoirs of Baron Lejeune, aide-de-camp to marshals Berthier, Davout, and Oudinot (translation, 1897), Lejeune related one of the many wretched scenes that the Napoleonic Wars produced. He wrote: “As we were pushing on the next day, we came upon two poor creatures at a turn in the road whose condition tore our hearts. They were a handsome well-built man of about forty and a woman of about thirty, also with a fine figure, both stark naked. They approached us and said to us in very good French, ‘Our home has been sacked by Cossacks, who stripped us of everything and left us as you see us. For pity’s sake help us.’ We could do nothing for them but give them a little food, and we felt very wretched as we turned away. The next day at a bivouac some distance off a fresh irresistible demand was made upon our pity, and our stock of provisions was so much reduced that I don’t know what we should have done but that some German peasants brought us a few sheep, with which we replenished our larder.” (p. 158, https://archive.org/details/memoirsbaronlej01maurgoog/page/n170/mode/2up —retrieved May 5, 2021.)
The bodies of dead soldiers of Napoleon’s Grand Armée left on the bridge over the River Kolocha after the Battle of Borodino, 1812. Christian Wilhelm von Faber du Faur (1780-1857), published 1830’s.
Gen. Kutuzov at the conference of Fili deciding to surrender Moscow to Napoleon, Aleksey Kivshenko (1851–1895), 1880, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
Following the Battle of Borodino on September 7, 1812, the Russian army retreated towards Moscow and camped near Fili. A military council led by General Kutuzov assembled in a hut in Fili where, despite objections from younger generals, Kutuzov insisted on his plan to abandon Moscow.
The action not only saved the remains of the Russian army but worked to stymie and ultimately defeat Napoleon’s invasion drive. The personalities in the painting include Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818), who was replaced by Kutuzov on order of the Czar and sits in the corner below the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus icon. Fyodor Uvarov sits near Barclay holding a paper. Nikolay Raevsky (1771-1829) sits by the window with his fingers locked together. Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov (1777-1861) stands on the far right. The much younger Yermolov resented old general Kutuzov’s plan and demanded to fight the enemy.
When Napoleon and no more 100,000 French troops reached Moscow on September 8, 1812, there were no Russian troops to fight inside the city. Instead, Napoleon found only Russia’s poor, displaced, and underprivileged. Some sex workers stayed there to ply their trade in exchange for limited food. Moscow was Russia’s largest city, its capital, its Holy City—and French troops of liberation took to looting it. As the military forces of western Enlightenment watched Moscow burn for four days, the event in the war was a watershed for the Russian resolve to not surrender.
Napoleon wrote a letter of apology and condolence to the Czar for the wanton destruction in Moscow. The Czar, Alexander I Pavlovich, the Blessed (1777-1825), did not answer. He was concerned with Kutuzov’s army. Russia’s Czar, the commanding general, the troops and people were of one mind: to fight the Western invader to the last Russian man, woman, and child. Moscow’s demise was the turning point for the autocratic world that viewed Napoleon as an atheist and butcher at the head of an international army of mercenary thugs and savages. Only the wealthy in Russia were willing to negotiate with Napoleon mainly from fear that he might try to free their serfs. In this clash of civilizations, Napoleon surmised, “I beat the Russians every time—but that does not get me anywhere.”5 Old general Kutuzov’s inaction attained his objective to defend Russia whereas his 43-year-old French counterpart’s active efforts to rally his men far from home on behalf of his Empire failed.
Posthumous Portrait of Czar Alexander I of Russia, 1826, George Dawe, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Napoleon’s interest now turned back to Paris. Having heard of an impending coup d’état led by Gen. Claude François de Malet (1754-1812), Napoleon had to raise more fresh troops to crush rebellions in Paris. There were rebellions to crush taking place in other lands of the Empire as they squirmed under his dictatorial rule and were emboldened by his latest inglorious defeat.
By late 1812, the weather in Russia turned to ice and snow. Whereas the Russians retreated prior to defeat, the French retreated in defeat. Reports of cannibalism among the retreating combatants is recorded. On Napoleon’s retreat, the French army lost another half of their men. Napoleon’s supply lines had long been sacked and looted by his anti-Empire enemies.
Famous tell-all graph by French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard (1781-1870) showing the size of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it marched towards Moscow (top gray line, left to right) in summer of 1812 and its retreat (bottom black line, from right to left) in the late fall of 1812. Frozen temperatures during the humiliating retreat are plotted on the bottom graph.
On the retreat, surviving warriors fought among themselves over any existing supplies. Napoleon’s retreat included the humiliation of being chased out of Russia by Kutuzov’s redeployed 80,000 troops. The old man’s hot pursuit did not allow Napoleon, the once young Enlightenment military figure, to rest.
Under military surgeon Baron Dominique Jean Larrey (1766-1842), the Grand Army’s medical and sanitary measures were the finest in the world but the retreat route offered no food and no medical care. As a remedy for possible future ills, including his capture, Napoleon convinced his doctor to give him a vial of poison which the dictator could ingest if conditions deteriorated to become inescapably dire.
Portrait of Dominique-Jean Larrey, oil on canvas, 1804, Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1768-1826), Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France.
Baron Dominique Jean Larrey was a French surgeon and military doctor who distinguished himself during the near endless wars of the French Revolution and under Napoleon. Baron Larrey served as the Grand Army’s medical and sanitation leader and was an important innovator in triage who is considered the first modern military doctor and surgeon.
Napoleon: Retreat, 1812. /Ncrossing The Beresina River In Russia During The Retreat Of The Grand Army Under Napoleon Bonaparte, December 1812; Baggage Carts And Ambulances Have Been Abandoned In The Foreground. Watercolor, c. 1812, attributed to General François Louis Fournier-Sarlovèze (1773-1827).
During the Russian Campaign, Fournier commanded a brigade of light cavalry composed of French, German, and Central European horsemen, and led a noted cavalry charge at the Battle of Smolensk.
Generals Kutuzov and Wittgenstein attacked the retreating remnants of Napoleon’s army at a critical bridge crossing in modern-day Belarus. Hundreds of Frenchmen drowned. To stop the attack, Napoleon ordered the bridges destroyed. He stranded hundreds more of his company to the enemy’s gunfire.
Napoleon now told his aide-de-camp, Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt, what the Russian campaign taught him: “I can hold my grip on Europe only from the Tuileries.” In Warsaw, when Napoleon met Abbé de Pradt, his ambassador there, he told the French clergyman: “From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.”6
Napoleon had led almost 700,000 men into Russia with the intent of conquering the country. By the end of 1812, only about 30,000 had survived. Out of that number, less than 1,000 soldiers returned to active duty after their return to France. 7
NAPOLEON DEFEATED IN PENINSULAR WAR IN SPAIN
Simultaneous with the debacle of Napoleon’s blood-thirsty Russian invasion, French forces lost the long fight in Spain and Portugal (since 1808) to keep the British off the Continent.
Significant losses in the east and west of the Empire were followed in 1813 by the Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon’s penultimate defeat by an international coalition that included Austria, Prussia, Russia and Sweden.
FORCED ABDICATION, EXILE, WATERLOO, AND DEATH
After Napoleon withdrew into France, in March 1814 these allied forces captured Paris. By early April 1814 Napoleon was forced to abdicate as Emperor. Napoleon had to go for his pursuit of glory had become a menace to his country and the world.
With the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and, following his brief escape into France in 1814, he was defeated for the final time at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena which held him until his death at 51 years old on May 5, 1821.
Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801, oil on canvas, 102 1⁄3 × 87 in., Château du Malmaison.