June 20 1812: Let their Destinies be Fulfilled

On June 20, 1812, Napoleon is at Gumbinnen, where he receives a courier from St Petersburgh advising him that his ambassador Count Lauriston has been refused an audience with the Tsar and forbidden to travel to Vilna. The Tsar has also asked him and other diplomats, who are allies of France, to call for their passports "which amounted to a declaration of hostilities." [1]Napoleon now orders the publication of the first of various bulletins to be issued as part of his propaganda war against Russia. He also orders the army to march for the purpose of passing the Niemen. "The conquered assume the tone of conquerors: fate drags them on; let their destinies be fulfilled," Napoleon is supposed to have said or wished to be remembered as having said. Napoleon's First Bulletin of the Grand Army of June 20, 1812 is reproduced below.

Gumbinnen, June 20, 1812.

TOWARDS the end of 1810, Russia altered her political system—the English spirit regained its influence—the Ukase respecting commerce was its first act.

In February, 1811, five divisions of the Russian army quitted the Danube by forced marches, and proceeded to Poland. By this movement Russia sacrificed Wallachia and Moldavia.

When the Russian armies were united and formed, a Protest against France appeared, which was transmitted to every Cabinet. Russia by that announced, that she felt no wish even to save appearances. All means of conciliation were employed on the part of France—all were ineffectual.

Towards the close of 1811, six months after it was manifest in France that all this could end only in war, preparations were made for it. The garrison of Dantzig was increased to 20,000 men. Stores of every description, cannons, muskets, powder, ammunition, pontoons, were conveyed to that place; considerable sums of money were placed at the disposal of the department of engineers for the augmentation of its fortifications.

The army was placed on the war establishment. The cavalry, the train of artillery, and the military baggage train, were completed.

In March, 1812, a treaty of alliance was concluded with Austria; the preceding month a treaty had been concluded with Prussia.

In April the first corps of the Grand Army marched for the Oder, the second corps to the Elbe, the third corps to the Lower Oder, the fourth corps set out from Verona, crossed the Tyrol, and proceeded to Silesia. The Guards left Paris.

On the 22d of April, the Emperor of Russia took the command of his army, quitted St.  Petersburg, and moved his head-quarters to Vilna.

In the commencement of May, the first corps arrived on the Vistula, at Elbing, and Marienburg; the second corps at Marienwerder, the third corps at Thorn, the fourth and sixth corps at Plock, the fifth corps assembled at Warsaw, the eighth corps on the right of Warsaw, and the seventh corps at Pulawy.

The Emperor set out from St. Cloud on the 9th of May; crossed the Rhine on the 13th, the Elbe on the "29th, and the Vistula on the 16th of June.

1. Adam Zamoyski, Moscow 1812. Napoleon’s Fatal March, New York 2004, page 145

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