Battle of Berezina

The Battle of Berezina (or Beresina) took place from 26 to 29 November 1812, between the French army of Napoleon, retreating after his invasion of Russia and crossing the Berezina (near Borisov, Belarus), and the Russian armies under Mikhail Kutuzov, Peter Wittgenstein and Admiral Pavel Chichagov. The battle ended with a mixed outcome. The French suffered very heavy losses but managed to cross the river and avoid being trapped. Since then "Bérézina" has been used in French as a synonym for "disaster."

Battle of Berezina
Part of French invasion of Russia (1812)
National Museum in Poznan - Przejście przez Berezynę

Napoleon's crossing of the Berezina
an 1866 painting by January Suchodolski
oil on canvas, National Museum in Poznań
Date26–29 November 1812
The Berezina river near Borisov (now Barysaw)
Result Russian tactical victory
French strategic victory;
French cross the river but suffer massive casualties[1][2]
Flag of France.svg First French Empire
Coat of arms of the Duchy of Warsaw Duchy of Warsaw
Flag of Russia.svg Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Napoleon I
Flag of France.svg Nicolas Oudinot
Flag of France.svg Victor-Perrin
Flag of France.svg Michel Ney
Flag of Russia.svg Pavel Chichagov
Flag of Russia.svg Peter Wittgenstein
Flag of Russia.svg Mikhail Kutuzov
49,000 combatants,
40,000 stragglers.[3]
64,000 combatants,
Chichagov: 34,000;
Wittgenstein: 30,000.[3]
Casualties and losses
13,000–25,000 combatants
10,000–20,000 stragglers
25 cannons.
6,000–20,000 combatants.
Battle of Berezina map
Map of the battle


As the surviving masses of the Grande Armée struggled on for the perceived safety of the west, the Russian armies closed in on them.

The French had suffered a defeat just two weeks earlier during the Battle of Krasnoi. However, reinforcements who had been stationed near the Berezina during Napoleon's initial advance through Russia brought the numerical strength of the Grande Armée back up to some 30,000 to 40,000 French soldiers capable of fighting, as well as 40,000 non-combatants. The Russians had approximately 61,000 troops at the Berezina, with another 54,000 under Kutuzov just 40 miles to the east who were approaching the river.

Battle and crossing

Napoleon's plan was to cross the Berezina River and head for Poland, while his enemies wanted to trap him there and destroy him. The original plan to cross the frozen river quickly proved impossible, as the usually frozen waterway had thawed and was now impassable.

The nearby bridge at Borisov had been destroyed and most of the equipment to build a pontoon bridge had been destroyed a few days earlier. However, the commander of the bridging equipment General Jean Baptiste Eblé had disobeyed Napoleon's earlier order to abandon equipment, instead retaining crucial forges, charcoal and sapper tools and thus only needed protection from Chichagov's force on the far west bank to span the river.[4]

Marshal Oudinot was given the task of drawing off the admiral and made a move towards the south. The plan worked, and Eblé's Dutch engineers braved ferociously cold water to construct the vital 100-metre bridge. Hypothermic death in less than 30 minutes of exposure was likely. The four Swiss infantry regiments acted as the rearguard. Cavalry quickly crossed it followed by infantry to hold the bridgehead. The Swiss suffered terrible losses (of the four Swiss Regiments of Oudinot's corps only 300 soldiers survived), but managed to cover both positions and the retreat. This struggle is depicted in the Beresinalied. The Swiss' heroic stand saved most of the French troops.

A second structure opened within hours and cannons were taken across it to bolster the defensive perimeter. They arrived just in time, as Chichagov realised his error and attacked the 11,000 French troops.

By midday of the 27th, Napoleon and his Imperial Guard were across, and the strategy now swung to saving the Swiss rearguard, which was fighting against Wittgenstein's arriving army.

One of the spans broke in the late afternoon, but more feats of engineering skill had it repaired by early evening. The corps of Marshal Davout and Prince Eugene crossed, leaving Marshal Victor's IX Corps to hold off the enemy on the east bank.

Boosting his firepower with artillery from across the river, Victor held out until after midnight, when his forces were able to join their colleagues, push Chichagov aside, and continue the retreat to France.


Berezina at Studzionka in winter 2015, looking north.
Berezina, same spot, looking south.

There is considerable disagreement regarding the numbers of casualties on both sides. While some 22,000 French men became casualties, these included a great number of stragglers, many of them civilians.[5] A higher estimate is provided by historian Jacques Garnier, who places French losses at 25,000 combatants, 25 cannon and 20,000 civilian stragglers, of whom around 10,000 were massacred by Cossacks.[3] Russian casualties were also high, and although a very moderate 19th century Russian estimate places them at 6,000[6] they probably amounted to 20,000 men.[3] Historian Alain Pigeard offers more moderate figures (combatants only): between 13,000 and 16,000 men (2000 killed, 7,000-10,000 wounded, plus the entire Partouneaux division killed, wounded or prisoners) for the French, 13,000 men (10,000 dead or wounded, 3,000 prisoners on the right bank) for the Russians. Among the French casualties were three generals and four colonels, killed during this battle.[7] Pigeard's estimate reflects more recent research, with most modern historians placing French losses at around 15,000 combatants and 10,000 stragglers. Russian losses are usually placed at up to 15,000 combatants.[8] According to the modern Russian encyclopedia, the Russian army lost from 8,000 to 15,000 killed, wounded and prisoners during four days; French casualties were from 25,000 to 40,000 [9] Richard K. Riehn estimated French losses at about 30,000; most of these were stragglers, actual battle losses being relatively small with about 10,000 French and 14,000 Russians actually involved.[10]

In popular culture

The Battle of Berezina is depicted in the 1956 film War and Peace. The erection of a bridge over the Berezina is described in Honoré de Balzac's novel The Country Doctor.


The drama of the battle's story inspired many works of art centred on the crossing.

Myrbach-Crossing of the Berezina

Crossing of the Berezina, Felician Myrbach

Fournier Sarlovèze (Berezina)

Le passage de la Bérézina, Joseph Raymond Fournier-Sarlovèze

Crossing the Berezina River, by Peter von Hess

Crossing the Berezina River on 17 November 1812, Peter von Hess

Jan Hoynck van Papsendrecht (Berezina)

La traversée de la Bérézina en 1812, Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht

Julian Falat Übergang der Französischen Armee über die Bresina

Crossing at Berenzina, Julian Fałat

Übergang über die Berezina

Übergang über die Berezina, unknown

See also


  1. ^ Riehn, p.387.
  2. ^ Clausewitz, Karl Riehn, p.387
  3. ^ a b c d Tulard, volume 1, p. 202-203.
  4. ^ Beresina : Battle of the Beresina : Napoleonic Wars : Retreat from Russia 1812 : Napoleon Bonaparte
  5. ^ Marley, E. J. La Méthode Graphique (Paris, 1885) (as cited in Tufte, Edward R.'s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information)
  6. ^ Богданович М. И., История Отечественной войны 1812 года по достоверным источникам. Т.3.-СПБ.,1860
  7. ^ Pigeard, p.125-126.
  8. ^ Moscow, 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow, Adam Zamoyski, Harper/Collins, 2004, ISBN 0-06-108686-X, page 480.
  9. ^ Отечественная война 1812 года. Энциклопедия. - М., РОССПЭН, 2004, стр.65
  10. ^ Riehn, p.387


  • Morelock, Jerry, Napoleon's Russian nightmare. Misjudgments, Russian strategy and “General Winter” changed the course of history, 2011
  • Weider, Ben and Franceschi, Michel, The Wars Against Napoleon: Debunking the Myth of the Napoleonic Wars, 2007
  • Zamoyski, Adam, 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow, 1980
  • Chandler, David, The Campaigns of Napoleon New York, Macmillan, 1966
  • Tulard, Jean - "Dictionnaire Napoléon”; Librairie Artème Fayard, 1999, ISBN 2-213-60485-1
  • Pigeard, Alain - "Dictionnaire des batailles de Napoléon", Tallandier, Bibliothèque Napoléonienne, 2004, ISBN 2-84734-073-4
  • Pigeard, Alain - "La Bérézina", Napoléon Ier Editions 2009

Further reading

  • Mikaberidze, Alexander (2010). Napoleon's Great Escape: The Battle of the Berezina. London: Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-84415-920-8.

Coordinates: 54°19.550′N 28°21.631′E / 54.325833°N 28.360517°E

1919 in Russia

Events from the year 1919 in Russia

2nd Pavlograd Life Hussar Regiment

The 2nd Pavlograd Life Hussar Regiment (Russian: 2-й лейб-гусарский Павлоградский полк) was a cavalry regiment of the Imperial Russian Army.

The regiment was originally formed in 1783 as the Pavlograd Light Horse Regiment from the Dnepr and Yekaterinoslav Regiments of Pikemen, although it traced its seniority back to the establishment of both regiments in 1764. It became the Pavlograd Hussar Regiment in 1801, and fought in the Napoleonic Wars, distinguishing itself at the Battle of Schöngrabern during the War of the Third Coalition. The regiment also fought at Austerlitz, Eylau, and Friedland, but served in a secondary theatre during the French invasion of Russia, although it fought in the Battle of Berezina in the latter. Subsequently, it took part in the Russian campaign in Europe, fighting at Leipzig, Craonne and Saint-Dizier.

The regiment went on to fight in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–1829, the November Uprising, the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the Crimean War, and the January Uprising.

Battle of Berezina (1919)

The First Battle of Berezina was a battle fought around the Russian town Berezina in the Polish-Soviet war. It ended with the Polish capture of the town and the capture of 1000 Russian prisoners.

Battle of Berezina (disambiguation)

Battle of Berezina may refer to one of the following events that happened by the Berezina River.

A battle between Charles XII of Sweden and Peter the Great on June 25, 1708 won by Charles.

Battle of Berezina during Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

Battles during the Polish–Soviet War:

Battle of Berezina (1919), a failed Bolshevik assault between October 30 and November 3, 1919

A successful attack of three Bolshevik brigades between May 16 and May 27, 1920

A counterattack by the Polish forces in June 1920

The third attack on the Polish positions around the village of Berezina in late June and early July 1920

Battles in 1941 and 1944 during the Second World War.

Battle of the Dvina

There were numerous battles on the Daugava river (known as Dvina in Russian):

Battle of Kokenhausen (1601) between the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden

Battle of Kircholm (1605) between the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden

Battle of Daugavpils (1919), a joint Polish–Latvian operation against Bolshevist Russia

Battle of the Dvina (1920), a part of the Battle of the Niemen River during the Polish–Bolshevik War

Battle of the Dvina (1941), during the German invasion of the USSR


The Beresinalied, originally known as Unser Leben gleicht der Reise (the incipit) is a Lied composed by Friedrich Wilke after the 1792 poem "Die Nachtreise" by Karl Ludwig Giesecke.

It became a symbol of the sacrifices of Swiss mercenaries in foreign service following popularization as Beresinalied by Otto von Greyerz and Gonzague de Reynold, tying it to the Battle of Berezina. The context is that Oberleutnant Thomas Legler, (1782–1835, born in Glarus) who served in the II corps of Marshal Nicolas Oudinot in Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion army in Russia in his memoirs Denkwürdigkeiten aus dem russischen Feldzug tells how his commander during the Battle on 28 November 1812 reminded him of the song and asked him to sing it.

Of the originally 8,000 men of the four Swiss regiments (division Merle), about 1,300 were left by the time the retreating army reached the Berezina River. Under General Jean Baptiste Eblé two bridges were built across the Berezina, and the second corps crossed to the western bank to beat back the Russian troops hindering the crossing. The Swiss engaged the Russian troops on 28 November 1812 on the road to Barysaŭ. The Russians pressed back the Swiss vanguard, trying to force them back into the river. Only 300 Swiss survived the day.

Berezina River

The Berezina or Biarezina (Belarusian: Бярэ́зіна; pronounced [bʲaˈrɛzʲinɐ]) is a river in Belarus and a tributary of the Dnieper River.

The Berezina Preserve by the river is on the UNESCO list of Biosphere Preserves.

Château de Rochechouart

Château de Rochechouart is a thirteenth-century French castle, located at the top of the confluence of the Grêne and Vayres rivers in the commune of Rochechouart within the département of Haute-Vienne.

Dmitri Kutejnikov

Dmitri Kutejnikov (Russian: Дмитрий Ефимович Кутейников; 1766 - 1844), born into a Don Cossacks noble family and was a Russian full general in time of Napoleonic Wars. He was a hero of Battle of Kinburn (1787). Kuteinikov served in wars against France and Turkey, was in a Russian expedition to India in 1800. In Patriotic War of 1812 was at Borodino, Battle of Maloyaroslavets and Battle of Berezina.

François-Étienne de Damas

François-Étienne de Damas (22 June 1764 - 23 December 1828) was a French general.

IX Corps (Grande Armée)

The IX Corps of the Grande Armée was the name of a French military formation that existed during the Napoleonic Wars. The corps was first formed in 1806 from German troops allied with the First French Empire and Emperor Napoleon appointed his brother Jérôme Bonaparte as commander. During 1807, elements of the corps besieged several Prussian fortresses. The corps was revived as an all-Saxon unit in 1809 and leadership given to Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. The corps fought at Linz-Urfahr and Wagram.

In 1810, a new IX Corps appeared in Spain led by Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d'Erlon. The corps was in action at the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro in 1811 before being discontinued. The corps was reformed in 1812 for the French invasion of Russia and Marshal Claude Victor-Perrin assigned to lead it. Victor's troops fought in several actions, most notably at the Battle of Berezina in November. The formation was re-established in 1813 with Marshal Pierre Augereau as commander and fought at Leipzig.

List of Napoleonic battles

This list includes all those battles which were fought throughout the Napoleonic era, April 1796 – 3 July 1815.

Nicolas Oudinot

Nicolas Charles Oudinot, 1st Comte Oudinot, 1st Duc de Reggio (25 April 1767 in Bar-le-Duc – 13 September 1847 in Paris), was a Marshal of France. He is known to have been wounded 34 times in battle (by artillery shells, bullets [at least 12], saber slashes and thrusts). Oudinot is one of the Names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, Eastern pillar Columns 13, 14.

Peter Wittgenstein

Louis Adolph Peter, 1st Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Ludwigsburg-Berleburg (German: Ludwig Adolf Peter Fürst zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg; Russian: Пётр Христиа́нович Ви́тгенштейн, tr. Pyotr Khristiánovich Vítgenshteyn; 17 January [O.S. 6 January] 1769 – 11 June 1843), better known as Peter Wittgenstein in English, was a the Prince of the German dynasty Sayn-Wittgenstein and Field Marshal in the Imperial Russian Army during the Napoleonic wars.

Peter von Hess

Peter Heinrich Lambert von Hess (29 July 1792 – 4 April 1871) was a German painter, known for historic paintings, especially of the Napoleonic Wars and the Greek War of Independence.

Second Battle of Polotsk

The Second Battle of Polotsk (18–20 October 1812) took place during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. In this encounter the Russians under General Peter Wittgenstein attacked and defeated a Franco-Bavarian force under Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr. In the aftermath of this success, the Russians took Polotsk and dismantled Napoleon's operations in Belarus. Wittgenstein's victory set the stage for the Battle of Berezina in November, in which three Russian armies converged on Napoleon from separate directions.

Sergey Muravyov-Apostol

Sergey Ivanovich Muravyov-Apostol (Russian: Серге́й Ива́нович Муравьёв-Апо́стол) (9 October [O.S. 28 September] 1796 – 25 July [O.S. 13 July] 1826) was a Russian Imperial Lieutenant Colonel and one of the organizers of the Decembrist revolt.He was one of five Decembrists executed for their roles in attempting to overthrow the monarchy.

Stanisław Hutten-Czapski

Stanislaw hrabia Hutten-Czapski, of Leliwa (b. 1779 in Nesvizh, d. 1844 in Kėdainiai) was a Polish Count and Colonel in the Napoleonic wars. He was the son of Francis Stanislaus Kostka, the governor of Chelmno and Veronica Radziwill (1754-Unknown), sister of Prince Karol Stanisław "Panie Kochanku" Radziwiłł.

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