The Battle of Berezina took place from November 26-29, 1812, between the French army of Napoleon, retreating after his invasion of Russia and crossing the Berezina, and the Russian armies under Mikhail Kutuzov, Peter Wittgenstein and Admiral Pavel Chichagov. The battle ended with a mixed outcome. The French suffered 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”.
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 mi (64 km) to the east who were approaching the river.
Featured image: The Grande Armée Crossing the Berezina. 1866 Painter: January Suchodolski