On This Day in Napoleonic History – 27 November 1812

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27Napoleon crosses the Berezina

The first units of what was left of the Grande Armée reached the 300-foot wide river a week earlier only to find the Russian army under Pavel Chichagov occupying the West bank. The only bridge across Berezina was destroyed. Napoleon’s aim was to cross the river and evade the Russians, who outnumbered him 3 to 1. The situation was so desperate that the army burnt its Eagles on November 24 to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

‘The weather is very cold,’ Napoleon wrote to Marie Louise. ‘My health is very good. Kiss the little king for me and never doubt the sentiments of your faithful husband.’ The temperatures plunges to -33 C and the army struggled with cold and fatigue. When the first units crossed the pontoon bridges safely, Napoleon exclaimed, ‘My star returns,’ a bit of an exaggeration considering the high number of French casualties at the crossing of Berezina, possibly as many as  22,000.

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