Napoleon became the emperor of France in 1804 after the French Revolution had taken place. He was one of the greatest military and political rulers to exist. Although he was great administrator he was more interested in expanding his empire. As the size of the empire increased so the disputes between countries. In June of 1812 he began his fatal Russian campaign that ultimately causes his defeat and the downfall of his empire (Carroll).
Relations between Russia had been tense to begin with. When Prussia and Austria fought in war against France Russia decided to take part as well. Prussia and Austria were both defeated and only Russia remained. The Treaty of Tilsit, signed in 1807, forced a truce and ended the war between Russia and France. Conditions between the two countries only worsened when Napoleon instilled the Continental System, a document which forbade any European country from trading with Great Britain. It was created to hurt Britain's economy but also injured Russian economy. Czar Alexander of Russia withdrew from the system and Napoleon was furious.
By this time both Russia and France had begun to prepare for the inevitable, war. Russia's armies were scattered and Russia was only able to produce around 240,000 troops (Saglamer). To prepare engineers began to fortify the Dvina-Dnieper river lines. The Russian guard consisted of three armies. General Barclay de Tolley commanded the First Army of about 130,000 men. His army was deployed on the northern edge of the border, towards St. Petersburg. The Second Army was under the command of General Bagration with about 50,000 troops. His army was stationed in the center of Russia, north of the Pripet marshes. The Third Army, commanded by General Tormasov, with the rest of the troops, was stationed in the south towards Kiev.
The Russian strategy was to keep retreating, denying Napoleon the quick large battle he wanted. They also employed the scorched earth policy, which was destroying crops to deny the invaders food, burning buildings to prohibit sheltering in them, dumping dead animals into wells to poison them, and destroying bridges, signs, and roads to confuse, confound and delay the French. They employed these tactics because they knew there was no chance at victory in a direct battle.
By the end of 1810 Napoleon had begun to prepare as well. He created the Grand Armée consisting of about 610,000 troops (McLynn). This army was primarily not French, it had been created from the countries under French rule and France's allies. Napoleon also built up deposts in Prussia and Poland. The threat of the enormous army did not quite threaten Russia as he had predicted. None the less Napoleon still predicted a quick victorious campaign.
Napoleon assembled the Grand Armée in Poland, just on the edge of the Russian border. A reserve army was held in the rear near the Vistula and Oder rivers. The plan was to launch a front reaching from the Pripet marshes to the Baltic Sea and...