On This Day in Napoleonic History – 11 August 1812

11Napoleon gives orders to leave Vitebsk and move on Smolensk

‘His Majesty rides much less quickly these days. He’s put on a good deal of weight and rides a horse with greater difficulty than before,’ reported one of his officers.

And yet, when Napoleon moved at top speed, water had to be poured over the wheels of his carriage to prevent them from overheating. He was hoping to force a decisive battle at Smolensk, certain that Emperor Alexander wouldn’t give up this great Russian city without a fight. Napoleon needed an impressive victory to force Alexander to the negotiating table.

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