. RUSSIAN ARMY  1805-1814


My interest in the Russian Army of the Napoleonic era began by accident.   My backyard neighbor, author, and Vietnam veteran Benjamin King has had a lifelong interest in matters military, historical, and war gaming; an interest I shared.  I admired his great skill in painting his war gaming figures and he quickly got me "hooked" on the pageantry and drama of tabletop gaming, a facet of war gaming which I had not experienced in map based gaming with flat, cut cardboard unit "markers or counters."   It's one thing to see a half inch cardboard square representing a regiment, and another to see the lines of colorfully painted three dimensional figures standing in orderly rows and columns. 

Then the wily fox donated some figures of the Russian Army to me.   This became the nucleus of my personal collection of lead figures.  The research necessary to accurately depict the units, uniforms, equipment, and flags is now an unending quest, and passion.   

RUSSIAN ARMY 1805-1815   

I have started with some information on the history of the period, the formations, units and on the "Standards" (flags) carried by the Russian Line Infantry, Guard Infantry and Cavalry regiments in the Napoleonic Period

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Tsar Alexander I  

The grandson of Catherine the Great. He replaced his father and reversed the counterproductive changes made by Tsar Paul that had turned back the clock to ape the outdated drill and training by Prussian methods of 25 years earlier.  



Before all the Franco-Philes out there start singing the praises of Napoleon, I want to say that he was an amazing soldier at his peak. However,  I like the Russian Army of Tsar Alexander.  After all the Russians fought in many of the most bitter battles of the Napoleonic Wars: Austerlitz, Eylau, Friedland, and Borodino.  In at least two of these, Eylau and Borodino they fought  the Corsican Ogre to a standstill. Ironically, after their disastrous defeat at Jena by Napoleon the Prussian's reconstructed their army, and they in turn copied facets of Alexander's army. Guided largely by DeTolly,  Tsar Alexander undid many of the ills inflicted on the Army by Alexander's slightly mad father Paul, who was assassinated by his own palace guard.




Marshall Baron Mikhail Bogdanovitch Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818)
Coming up through the ranks from private, he revamped the Russian army, doing away with the ridiculous and outdated Prussian affectations of Tsar Paul. 
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De Tolly de-emphasized parade ground drill and dress opting for a combat effective format in both. He emphasized marksmanship with the musket rather than charge by bayonet, which up until then had been the predominant Russian battle tactic. A tactic sadly somewhat reverted to after  his "demotion" to a Corps commander and the accession of Kutuzov to command the Russian Army.

He changed the organizational structure introducing permanent Army, Corps and Division structures. He felt it was more important for the troops to save energy and effort for fighting rather than maintaining appearances. Barclay and Tsar Alexander brought their army to a contemporary combat peak. However, he labored under a handicap, largely from Prince Bagration's influence and complaint that De Tolly's Scottish ancestry made him something less than a "real Russian."

In the Patriotic War of 1812 Barclay's strategy was to avoid Napoleon's strategic traps and avoided the Emperor's attempts to force a major battle to gain a resounding victory like Austerlitz or Jena,  or a devastating coup like Ulm, and to prevent  the destruction of the Russian Army. He chose to trade time and space while generally nipping away at the French. This strategy however eventually led to his replacement by Kutusov, and ultimately led to the battle of Borodino in September 1812, when court factions who wanted a major battle with the French gained the  Tsar's ear.

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General Kutuzov
Replaced de Tolly just in time to mess up at Borodino.  Well, I guess for an old guy of 67 years he did OK. It was reported however that he left too much of the operation at the discretion of lesser commanders, reportedly spent the battle drunk, and was out of touch with the reality of Borodino. 
Although Borodino can be described as a standoff, in factual terms the Russian lost the field, and lost a greater number of men and equipment that day. On the plus side though tactically a failure, strategically Borodino was a success. Napoleon only advanced another 50 miles after the battle as he could not replace the losses suffered in the meat grinder of Borodino and the Russians could. Ultimately Napoleon advanced to Moscow  where he stayed another month. Then in the face of a still intact and strengthening Russian Army, started for home in the middle of a worse-than-usual Russian winter, losing nearly his entire army in the process.  Not to mention that several of his forced "allies," like the Prussians, ultimately defected from his side



"The bayonet is the true Russian weapon and the push of the bayonet is far more decisive than musketry"

"Precepts for Infantry Officers on the Day of Battle", Russian military manual June 1812

Considering that Napoleon started the Russian Campaign of 1812 with about 500,000 men and 1,800 cannon and barely escaped Russia with only 25,000 men,  250 cannon, and ordered destroyed most of the French Army's prized "Eagles" to prevent the Russians from getting them. So in that light it was not such a bad strategy.  And after this epic failure Napoleon was in a continual defensive mode, eventually being driven back into France and forced ultimately to abdicate.

De Tolly's trick of trading space for time, and the Russian winter, worked again when the Germans tried their luck in 1941 with startlingly similar outcomes.


Reads for those interested in the period:

The Osprey two volume series:  "The Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars"  by Phillip Haythornwaite

"The Imperial Russian Army 1805-1815"  by Bill Murray.  (good luck finding this one.)

"The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon" by   Guenther Rothenberg: University of Indiana Press - a good overview of battle tactics and armies of the era.

"Napoleons Invasion of Russia" by George Nafziger - Great information source. 

"Campaigns of Napoleon" by David Chandler (a CLASSIC)

"With Musket, Cannon, and Sword" by Brent Nosworthy

Websites for those interested in the period:

THE NAFZIGER COLLECTION - Author and historian, a great     information source on Napoleonic and other periods.
Nafziger Donated his library of Orders of Battle here
Need a flag? Aside from mine (ahem) this site has an excellent database of flag images from many periods and nations, along with reproduction, mounting, display tips and links. 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Borodino WIKIPEDIA: Good summary and decent information on the battle of Borodino

The Organization page includes information on the structure and order of battle of the Russian Army facing Napoleon.  The Flags pages contains information and graphics I worked up as part of my interest and need for standards to equip my 15mm war gaming figures.  Before Corel Photopaint and a color printer I had to hand color these little guys.  Now it's much easier. Ain't technology wunnerful??

Go to:   Home Flags Organization

These WebPages and their content are the product, property and opinions of it's author, me.  Nothing herein reflects any official endorsement of this page, it's opinions, or content by the NNPD, the City of Newport News, or any other listed entity or organization.    

      Last updated: 09/21/2013 09:49:18              Copyright 1998 William L. Liddell