Best Statistical Chart & Napoleon
Re-Visions of Minard
Modern versions of Minard's famous diagram of Napoleon's ill-fated Moscow campaign. Diagram guru, Edward Tufte, said "it may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn."
I think the diagram works at an emotional level. It portrays the army of 600,000 as a powerful river that dwindles to a stream as Moscow is reached. Then, the stream reverses course when Napoleon retreats, and finally becomes a trickle in the end.
Napoleon's Grand Armee was ruined by a combination of extreme weather, disease, starvation, the Cossacks (who showed them no mercy) and the Russian tactic of burning villages before Napoleon arrived, denying the troops food and shelter. The final casualty rate was 97.7%.
Some other pages:
Losses Suffered by the Grande Armée during the Russian Campaign
Insects, Disease, and Military History
Additionally, Russian soldiers burned many villages and farm houses as they retreated east. This "scorched earth" policy further stressed the soldiers and caused many peasants to wander the countryside, joining the teeming mass of refugees. The troops had to sleep close together because of the threat of Russian attack and peasant reprisals. Poor crop yields resulted in little straw available for bivouacs, so soldiers had to sleep on the moist ground (Etling 1988). This provided an ideal environment for the spread of lice and typhus.
Why did Napoleon Fail in Russia in 1812?
Costly Retreat from Moscow Part 5: Nature As Enemy
In the two-week period since the army quit Moscow and its embers on October 19, an estimated 30,000 horses had succumbed to starvation and winter's cold. Many a soldier's face now was colored with the dried blood of devoured horseflesh. A camp-follower mother had nourished her babe-in-arms on horses' blood. The men had lost ears, tongues. When the campfires died out, many keeled over and never rose again. Others ransacked and even ate the dead.
Napoleon's Lost Army: The Soldiers Who Fell
BBC report on a mass grave of soldiers discovered in 2002
Remains found in a mass grave outside Vilnius in Lithuania hold vital clues to the fate of Napoleon's Grand Army and the catastrophic retreat from Moscow in 1812.