On This Day in Napoleonic History – 3 December 1812

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2Napoleon issues the most famous of all his bulletins

In his 29th bulletin of 1812 campaign, dictated shortly before he left his army in Russia to return to Paris, Napoleon blamed the Russian winter for the catastrophe that had befallen his troops: ‘With temperatures unexpectedly down to -27 degrees Centigrade, the cavalry, artillery and baggage horses perished every night, not only by hundreds but by thousands. The army so fine on the 6th was very different on the 14th.’

By holding the weather responsible for his defeat, Napoleon gave no credit to the Russian army, calling the Cossacks ‘this contemptible cavalry, which only makes noise.’

When this bulletin was published in Paris on December 16, it caused a shock among the French society unaccustomed to see bad news so clearly spelled out for them. They were outraged by the final sentence of the bulletin that was seen as insensitive and self-centered: ‘The health of His Majesty has never been better.’ In reality, this phrase was nothing but habit, since Napoleon had used it 30 times in his letters to Marie Louise before he reached Moscow and 12 more during his stay there and the retreat. Napoleon’s 29th bulletin is significant because it was the first time Napoleon would officially admit that he had suffered a catastrophic defeat.

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