AHC: French victory in the Russian campaign?

In the popular conception of the history of the Napoleonic Wars, Russia marks a turning point, after which Napoleon was consistently on the back foot against his adversaries.

Was there any "good" strategy for Napoleon in 1812? Do the common ideas that he should have gone north, for Saint Petersburg, or south into Ukraine, have any benefits over the OTL campaign?
 
The strategy the French used in otl was good. It was not remarkable that the French invaded some of the most important lands of the Russian Empire expecting the Russian army to give battle, after which it could be decisively defeated. It was remarkable that the Russians, against the warrior aristocratic culture of the day, did not give battle, surrendering vast swathes of land to the French before finally being forced by political pressure to make a stand in front of Moscow. This strategy was very controversial and napoleon can't really be faulted for not anticipating it- particularly given that it involved the Russians burning their own land. French victory in the Russian campaign comes naturally from the political forces opposed to Barclay's scorched earth strategy triumphing, the Russian army giving battle in Lithuania, and being decisively defeated; this then would allow the French to impose the peace they wanted.
 
The trickiest problem will be that peace sticking, which relates rather strongly to why that's a problem for Napoleon in general and is not necessarily specific to Russia.
 
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Could Napoleon simply take western Russia hostage and go into comfortable Winther quarters?
Would need to send/rotate back parts of the army so not unproblematic, but its a survivable plan B.
 
Should have turned around and razed Berlin and Vienna to the ground instead; empowering the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians etc. in the process.

Then, take Kiev and create an independent Ukraine. With Poland and Ukraine as buffer states, maybe backed up by some French reserves, the damage Russia can do to Napoleon's imperial core is minimal.
 

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Marshal Macdonald should have had double the forces he had in otl (60,000 instead of 30,000) when commanding Napoleon's left flank.

With a force this large he could could have taken Riga and marched on St. Petersburg while the majority of the Russian military was outside Moscow dealing with Napoleon.

If the French can take Moscow AND St. Petersburg, I do believe the Tsar would be politically forced to make peace. But this is just a opinion.

Finding a way to avoid the Typhus outbreak would be beneficial as well.
 
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You have to define 'winning'. That's the main problem, bigger then anything else. You need a strategic goal and exit route in case the Russians don't helpfully surrender when you'd like. Invading is easy but that shouldn't be the goal of itself. What exactly was Napoleon after? Obviously he wished to unilaterally impose his will on Russia but was that ever feasible in a nation larger then all of Europe put together and with, apparently, strong political will to resist?

Napoleon needed to learn when to stop.
 
Napoleon needed to learn when to stop.
This, really. Not just in terms of the campaign itself, but if the point here is "a lasting peace", Napoleon has to figure out what would actually be mutually acceptable peace terms instead impose something where he has to go on campaign again in a few years. A purely military victory would not be the first time he's beaten a Russian army, after all.
 
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Should have turned around and razed Berlin and Vienna to the ground instead; empowering the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians etc. in the process.

Then, take Kiev and create an independent Ukraine. With Poland and Ukraine as buffer states, maybe backed up by some French reserves, the damage Russia can do to Napoleon's imperial core is minimal.
Creating an independent Ukraine would mean establishing enough control over an area bigger than France itself to invent a state out of what was at that point very little, all while fighting against a peasantry and Cossack force that would very likely hate you, with your own forces at the end of a long supply line against a Russian army that's right there. We shouldn't project current events back to the past; there was no viability whatsoever for a Ukrainian nation state in the napoleonic era.
 
In the popular conception of the history of the Napoleonic Wars, Russia marks a turning point, after which Napoleon was consistently on the back foot against his adversaries.

Was there any "good" strategy for Napoleon in 1812? Do the common ideas that he should have gone north, for Saint Petersburg, or south into Ukraine, have any benefits over the OTL campaign?
One of the biggest problems Napoleon faced was that his army was just too huge to supply with the logistics available at the time, and not just due to the weather (he'd already lost around 2/3 of his army before beginning the retreat from Moscow). A better strategy would have been to either:

(a) Invade with fewer soldiers in the first place .

(b) Split his army up, e.g., with a northern thrust towards St. Petersburg, a central thrust towards Moscow, and a southern thrust towards Kiev, each thrust having around 150-200,000 men (he invaded with somewhat over 600.000 IOTL, so this would be doable). Each army would then be small enough to keep supplied. The main risk with such a plan is that the armies would be too far away to support each other, meaning that the Russians might be able to defeat them in detail, although with the benefit of hindsight such a scenario could hardly be a bigger disaster than what happened IOTL.
 
(b) Split his army up, e.g., with a northern thrust towards St. Petersburg, a central thrust towards Moscow, and a southern thrust towards Kiev, each thrust having around 150-200,000 men (he invaded with somewhat over 600.000 IOTL, so this would be doable). Each army would then be small enough to keep supplied. The main risk with such a plan is that the armies would be too far away to support each other, meaning that the Russians might be able to defeat them in detail, although with the benefit of hindsight such a scenario could hardly be a bigger disaster than what happened IOTL.
Hmm, I don't think it's as really as simple as splitting the armies. The invasion of Russia was very much an industrial-era scale war but without the benefits of said era's technology. Splitting up the army would seem to be more of a logistical clusterfuck than any type of relief tbh. The Russian roads weren't great, and diverting supplies would bear the possibility of Cossack raids. Napoleon's army was also outpacing supplies, attempting to achieve that decisive victory that plagued the campaign. Speaking of plagues, diseases during the early months of the invasion was also a huge factor in Napoleon's failure.
 
Supply by sea might have been more feasible. So with an idea to go towards st Petersburg rather than Moscow may have made things easier.

he could certainly have harnessed more nationalist sentiment thought. The PL commonwealth was still a thing in the living memory of many and he had plenty of Polish troops from the recently formed GD of Warsaw no?

If he wanted to just cripple the Russians, he could perhaps do so by spreading republicanism and nationalism among the non russian peoples then set himself up as guarantor of their protection.

We could end up with a Ruthenian Republic. Another Duchy of Lithuania and a Cossack state on the black sea at the end of it.
 
The Poles seem to have been pro-Napoleon (at least to the extent of "the enemy of my enemy"), but did any of those other groups feel that way?

Especially after French soldiers have been - well, what an invading army is.
 
How when the RN commanded the sea? Admiral Saumarez would have sent the troop transports to the bottom.
The Baltic is hardly the entire world's oceans. Temporary protection to allow supplies (not troops) to move by coastal waters might have been possible. I don't know enough about the relative strengths of local navies or even if an economic blockade would have been possible then.
 
The Baltic is hardly the entire world's oceans. Temporary protection to allow supplies (not troops) to move by coastal waters might have been possible. I don't know enough about the relative strengths of local navies or even if an economic blockade would have been possible then.

We had seen to the Danish fleet some years back. Sweden was not at war with GB, and irc Saumarez was even able to purchase supplies in Swedish ports. Afaik Prussia had no navy to speak of. Saumarez also now has the support of the Russian navy.

Also, with the GA concentrated thousands of miles away in Russia, GB herself is in no immediate danger, hence the RN is not desperately needed in home waters. We can send Saumarez all the reinforcement that he needs. Any naval forces Napoleon may send will have to pass through the Sound, where we will no doubt have a squadron waiting for them. So will the fishes.
 
"Here I stop! Here I must look around me; rally, refresh my army and reorganize Poland. The campaign of 1812 is finished; that of 1813 will do the rest."

- Napoleon on entering Vitebsk, July 28, 1812

"I should have put my soldiers into barracks at Smolensk for the winter."

- Napoleon on St. Helena

In hindsight, wintering in Vitebsk, as was seriously considered, some 300 miles from the Nieman and roughly the same distance to Moscow, may have been the more preferable strategic decision following the frustrating failure to destroy Bagration's Second Army via maneuver in Belorussia in July 1812. Smolensk was the more difficult proposition, and the 'point of no return' for the Grande Armée, which suffered greatly from disease (typhus in particular), lack of fresh water access, bipolar weather, dust, death of horses, desertions, etc. So, let us surmise that Napoleon, for whatever reasons concerning 'time and space', decides to establish Vitebsk as the primary 'cantonments' of his force until a 'Spring Campaign', whether against Moscow or St. Petersburg, can be initiated in May 1813. Napoleon himself would assume residence among 'an opera company and actors' in Vilnius, in order to more readily receive diplomats and influence the Lithuanian 'Provisional Government'. Such strategy he was in apparent favor of following Smolensk in casual conversations with his officers. He also plans to consolidate his logistical system, imperiled by vast distances, poor roads, Cossack raids, etc. If peace cannot be obtained from Alexander by the close of 1812, he may go through with the plan to elevate the Duchy of Warsaw to the Kingdom of Poland in personal union with the resurrected Grand Duchy of Lithuania, with Marshal Poniatowski as sovereign. New enthusiastic regiments can be raised henceforth. Reinforcements could be dispatched to the Baltic to ensure the capture of Riga, which would serve as a base against Petersburg itself. The invasion can develop into proper occupation.

As it stood, Vitebsk was an excellent position to fortify for the winter, as it was 'on the borders of Old Russia, where the Dvina and Dnieper Rivers formed a natural defensive line. He [Napoleon] could establish ammunition magazines and hospitals, reorganize Lithuania politically -- the Lithuanians had already raised five infantry and four cavalry regiments for him -- and build-up the numbers for his central force, one-third of whom had by then died or were sick from typhus and dysentery. From Vitebsk he could threaten St. Petersburg if need be.' The much-depleted and exhausted cavalry could also receive rest and refit.

'Napoleon certainly had a fine line of defense at Vitebsk; his left flank was fixed at Riga on the Baltic, and ran through Dünaborg, Polotsk, fortified Vitebsk with its wooded heights at the center, then down the Berezina and through the impassable Pripet Marshes, with the fortress town of Bobruisk on his right, 400 miles south-east of Riga. Courland could support Macdonald's corps for food and supplies. Samogitia would do the same for Oudinot's, the Klubokoë plains for Napoleon himself, and Schwarzenberg could stop in the fertile southern provinces. There were huge supply depots at Vilnius, Kovno, Danzig, and Minsk to see the army through the winter. That he truly considered this option is evident from the fact that he ordered twenty-nine large ovens to be built at Vitebsk, capable of baking 29,000 pounds of bread, and had houses pulled-down to improve the appearance of the palace square where he stayed.'

Nevertheless, there were several factors in opposition to such a scheme. The rasputitsa would certainly result in the disordering of transportation come autumn; never mind the fact that halting in July, despite the French objective being the speedy negotiation with the Tsar following the decisive defeat of his army, would be something of an admission of weakness. The setbacks in Spain would certainly increase the pressure on Imperial prestige to achieve victory in the East in 1812, lest the specter of 1809 resurface at a time it cannot be afforded. Unfortunately, 'the wars of Spain and Russia were two ulcers which ate into the vitals of France and that she could not bear them both at once.' Napoleon also retained possession of the initiative amidst Russian retreat and high command confusion; having 'advanced 190 miles in a month and suffered fewer than 10,000 battle casualties; July was absurdly early in the campaigning calendar to halt for the year; audacity had always served him well up till then and he cede the initiative if he stopped at Vitebsk so early in the year; the Tsar had called up the 80,000-strong militia in Moscow on July 24 as well as 400,000 serfs, so it made sense to attack before they were trained and deployed; and the only two occasions when he had ever been forced to fight defensively, at Marengo and Aspern-Essling, he had not initially fared well. There was also the prospect for decisive battle at Smolensk against the Barclay-Bagration force. Murat and later Davout in particular seem to have influenced the Emperor to further pursue the Russian army and seize Moscow. Meanwhile, the pro-Vitebsk faction included 'Duroc, Caulaincourt, Daru, Narbonne, Poniatowski, Berthier, and Lefebvre-Desnouettes.' Napoleon, in the end, maintained despite the despair of Berthier and Duroc that: 'Blood has not yet been spilled, and Russia is too powerful to yield without fighting', and that 'boldness [is] the only prudential course', and that 'a stationary and prolonged defense isn't in the French nature.'

So, what-if? A defensive battle in August about Vitebsk interests me, considering the bitter enmity and feud between Barclay and Bagration. Napoleon also wouldn't receive intelligence regarding Salamanca until the beginning of September, although the situation in Iberia would see Wellington forced back into Portugal in November. There is also the Malet coup. All interesting developments to consider before 1813.
 
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"Here I stop! Here I must look around me; rally, refresh my army and reorganize Poland. The campaign of 1812 is finished; that of 1813 will do the rest."

- Napoleon on entering Vitebsk, July 28, 1812

"I should have put my soldiers into barracks at Smolensk for the winter."

- Napoleon on St. Helena

In hindsight, wintering in Vitebsk, as was seriously considered, some 300 miles from the Nieman and roughly the same distance to Moscow, may have been the more preferable strategic decision following the frustrating failure to destroy Bagration's Second Army via maneuver in Belorussia in July 1812. Smolensk was the more difficult proposition, and the 'point of no return' for the Grande Armée, which suffered greatly from disease (typhus in particular), lack of fresh water access, bipolar weather, dust, death of horses, desertions, etc. So, let us surmise that Napoleon, for whatever reasons concerning 'time and space', decides to establish Vitebsk as the primary 'cantonments' of his force until a 'Spring Campaign', whether against Moscow or St. Petersburg, can be initiated in May 1813. Napoleon himself would assume residence among 'an opera company and actors' in Vilnius, in order to more readily receive diplomats and influence the Lithuanian 'Provisional Government'.

There is a fundamental problem with Napoleon’s post-factum fantasies: they had little traction with a reality. 😂

It was technically impossible to keep 400,000 soldiers in Vitebsk for more than half a year. The city simply was not big enough. Smolensk was even worse because most of it had been burned to the ground. But Nappy was writing fir the posteriority and most of his intended readers would be hard pressed to find Vitebsk or Smolensk on a map so why bother with the trifles? 😜

So the troops would have to be split over a considerable region in the small towns and villages. And because the area was not densely populated, they would be spread thinly over considerable distances: just as in the case of Smolensk “the barracks” of a needed capacity did not exist and could not even be built and the makeshift shelters the soldiers were routinely making for themselves would not be adequate for a winter.
The next problem is how are you going to feed these 400,000 (plus huge numbers of non-combatants) and tens thousands horses. The staging area in Poland was poor to start with and pretty much dried out of supplies before campaign started. Vitebsk region was not rich either and at least part of its resources had been already consumed by the Russian army. With the fodder things were even worse and grazing would mean that the cavalry should be spread even thinner or starving. Murat’s experience at Tarutino is not very encouraging in that regard and the area was not destroyed by the time he came there. So the cavalry would need to be spread down to a brigade or regimental level (if Marbot was not lying, as usually, on that level a meaningful supply was possible).

Creating Lithuanian government would change little because the Belorussian peasants tended not to give a blip about restoration of the Grand Duchy and the regional Polish nobility hardly could give more than it was giving in OTL. And, I repeat, the area was poor.

And in a meantime the Russians will be hibernating? Their 1st and 2nd armies are intact, they have 44-49,000 in the 3rd Army, 59,000 on the Danube, 31,000 in Finland tens thousands of trained troops in reserve units inside Russia, already up to 100,000 in training and over 200,000 more would be raised and trained in 1812 (the troops which were deployed in 1813). The huge supply depots in Moscow are not being destroyed so equipping them is a lesser issue than in OTL.

Such strategy he was in apparent favor of following Smolensk in casual conversations with his officers. He also plans to consolidate his logistical system, imperiled by vast distances, poor roads, Cossack raids, etc.

The problem with this strategy is that it could not be implemented because the roads would remain bad, the distances huge and the Cossacks everywhere. Speaking about the Cossacks, Nappy and the French participants of the campaign were excessively obsessed with them. Only slightly above 10,000 Cossacks did participate in campaign of 1812 and most of the raids they were writing about were conducted by the units of a regular cavalry or the units having both regular cavalry and the Cossacks. Anyway, there was untapped reserve of approximately 100,000 Cossacks and other irregular units some of which had been deployed in 1813-14.

To make a long story short, foraging outside a closely guarded area would be close to impossible and cantonment by the small units would be extremely risky.



If peace cannot be obtained from Alexander by the close of 1812, he may go through with the plan to elevate the Duchy of Warsaw to the Kingdom of Poland in personal union with the resurrected Grand Duchy of Lithuania, with Marshal Poniatowski as sovereign. New enthusiastic regiments can be raised henceforth.

One more popular fantasy. They would not. The peasants, Lithuanian and Belorussian, were generally indifferent to the political developments and enthusiastic part of nobility volunteered anyway. Value of these volunteers was quite low because they were lacking a military training and the same would go for the peasants pressed for service. Besides, all these “regiments” would need arms and equipment which would have to be produced somewhere, transported and distributed. Not to be forgotten, a peasant called to the arms is switching from being a supplier to being a consumer and in the area already poor this means that the food shortages are going to be dramatic if any significant number of the Belorussian peasants with an ill-explained enthusiasm decides to fight for the glory of France and Grand Duchy of Lithuania.



Reinforcements could be dispatched to the Baltic to ensure the capture of Riga, which would serve as a base against Petersburg itself. The invasion can develop into proper occupation.

“Proper occupation” was counterproductive for Nappy because it was not reaching any of his political goals and having him stuck on a far end of nowhere forever with the huge logistical and supply problems.

In OTL, contrary to some popular theories, the Great Army on its march to Moscow and while in Moscow did not suffer from any noticeable food shortages. Losses of the horses had been huge before army reached Vitebsk and the general incompetence in this area would still be in place aggravated by a need to keep procuring a fodder in the exhausted region.

Logistics in this scenario is also problematic because instead of the OTL situation of having most of the troops under tight control, Napoleon would have these troops being spread thinly over the big distances with the few dirt roads as the only lines of communication. Desertions simply could not be controlled and the usual anti-sanitary conditions of the Napoleonic camps would not go away. So perhaps the losses from the diseases would be slightly lower than in OTL but they still would be big and, his army being on a defense, the Russians would have a complete freedom of attacking the “defensive perimeter” at the time and place of their choice. Keep in mind that during the winter French cavalry ceased to exist by the “natural cause” of a pure incompetence so in your scenario it would be, at best, not operational during the winter.


As it stood, Vitebsk was an excellent position to fortify for the winter, as it was 'on the borders of Old Russia, where the Dvina and Dnieper Rivers formed a natural defensive line.

No offense but this argument is getting dangerously close to von Phul’s plan for the Russian army in 1812: strategy defined exclusively by looking at the map. 😂

How would Napoleon make it a winter camp for 400-500,000 soldiers? You need to feed them and their horses for many months, you need to build the huge heated barracks and stables and arrange for an adequate wood supply through the winter. You’ll also need to build huge warehouses and keep them filled with a food brought all the way from Germany because the Duchy is seriously exhausted and can’t be pressured indefinitely without a loss of popularity. And, because the barracks will be made out of wood, you need to completely change the cooking habits of your soldiers: in OTL these imbeciles were making the cooking fires on the floors of the wooden buildings (instead of using their kitchens) burning a big part of Moscow and forcing Napoleon to order retreat.

He [Napoleon] could establish ammunition magazines and hospitals, reorganize Lithuania politically -- the Lithuanians had already raised five infantry and four cavalry regiments for him -- and build-up the numbers for his central force, one-third of whom had by then died or were sick from typhus and dysentery.
Lithuania raised pretty much what it could without loosing its supply capacity and this was peanuts not even remotely adequate for compensating a loss of 150-200,000. Nobody prevented Napoleon from establishing hospitals in Lithuania but during the winter of 1812/13 the wounded soldiers had bee freezing to death on the streets of Vilno because there was no place to accommodate them. Anyway, there was not enough doctors and medical equipment in the Great Army and they would not materialize out of a thin air so this hospitals idea was not going to be implemented.

From Vitebsk he could threaten St. Petersburg if need be.' The much-depleted and exhausted cavalry could also receive rest and refit.

Refit with what? AFAIK, the cavalry horses were not growing on the trees in Lithuania and the local peasant breeds, just as in Russia, tended to be small and not too good for artillery and cavalry service. Not to mention that the peasants from whom you are going to confiscate the horses will not be able to produce food. And if you start confiscating horses and other property from the landowners, their enthusiasm could noticeably diminish.
The cavalry horses would have to be brought all the way from Germany, which was already exploited for years, and trained properly.

And all that time Russian light cavalry and irregulars were going to have a free hand raiding the roads and intercepting supply convoys.

'Napoleon certainly had a fine line of defense at Vitebsk; his left flank was fixed at Riga on the Baltic, and ran through Dünaborg, Polotsk, fortified Vitebsk with its wooded heights at the center, then down the Berezina and through the impassable Pripet Marshes, with the fortress town of Bobruisk on his right, 400 miles south-east of Riga. Courland could support Macdonald's corps for food and supplies. Samogitia would do the same for Oudinot's, the Klubokoë plains for Napoleon himself, and Schwarzenberg could stop in the fertile southern provinces. There were huge supply depots at Vilnius Kovno, Danzig, and Minsk to see the army through the winter. That he truly considered this option is evident from the fact that he ordered twenty-nine large ovens to be built at Vitebsk, capable of baking 29,000 pounds of bread, and had houses pulled-down to improve the appearance of the palace square where he stayed.'

Clausewitz analyzed this scenario and found it impractical.

The main problem is that it is based upon an assumption that the opponent is absolutely passive, which is overly optimistic, especially taking into an account its overwhelming advantage in the light cavalry.

Then, let’s assume, for an argument sake that all these magazines were, really, adequate for supplying troops during the winter and that by some miracle these supplies were coming to Vitebsk and elsewhere without being interrupted, etc.

So the winter and spring are over, the roads are reasonably dry and Napoleon still have most of his troops (400-500,000 on the main direction) intact (arrivals from the garrisons in Germany, etc. are compensating for the losses) in Vitebsk and even most of the horses are surviving. Then what? He is still at the border of Russia proper but instead of 200,000 (1st and 2nd armies) on the main direction and approximately 400,000 total Russia has up to 700,000 fresh regular troops plus up to 100,000 irregular cavalry. So far, nothing is achieved politically and there is still a need to march somewhere with all OTL problems and losses. If the Russians still have no intention to confront him directly, they have enough forces to squash Macdonald and Oudinot on their right flank and Prince Schwarzenberg on the left (which most probably would not be required because he would simply retreat). As soon as Napoleon starts marching East, the distance between him and his left flank, and shortage of the roads, will prevent him from helping his isolated left flank and his overall strategic situation becomes lousy because his communication line is exposed.



Nevertheless, there were several factors in opposition to such a scheme. The rasputitsa would certainly result in the disordering of transportation come autumn; never mind the fact that halting in July, despite the French objective being the speedy negotiation with the Tsar following the decisive defeat of his army, would be something of an admission of weakness. The setbacks in Spain would certainly increase the pressure on Imperial prestige to achieve victory in the East in 1812, lest the specter of 1809 resurface at a time it cannot be afforded. Unfortunately, 'the wars of Spain and Russia were two ulcers which ate into the vitals of France and that she could not bear them both at once.' Napoleon also retained possession of the initiative amidst Russian retreat and high command confusion; having 'advanced 190 miles in a month and suffered fewer than 10,000 battle casualties; July was absurdly early in the campaigning calendar to halt for the year; audacity had always served him well up till then and he cede the initiative if he stopped at Vitebsk so early in the year; the Tsar had called up the 80,000-strong militia in Moscow on July 24 as well as 400,000 serfs, so it made sense to attack before they were trained and deployed; and the only two occasions when he had ever been forced to fight defensively, at Marengo and Aspern-Essling, he had not initially fared well.
Completely agree with all of the above.

There was also the prospect for decisive battle at Smolensk against the Barclay-Bagration force. Murat and later Davout in particular seem to have influenced the Emperor to further pursue the Russian army and seize Moscow. Meanwhile, the pro-Vitebsk faction included 'Duroc, Caulaincourt, Daru, Narbonne, Poniatowski, Berthier, and Lefebvre-Desnouettes.' Napoleon, in the end, maintained despite the despair of Berthier and Duroc that: 'Blood has not yet been spilled, and Russia is too powerful to yield without fighting', and that 'boldness [is] the only prudential course', and that 'a stationary and prolonged defense isn't in the French nature.'

So, what-if? A defensive battle in August about Vitebsk interests me, considering the bitter enmity and feud between Barclay and Bagration. Napoleon also wouldn't receive intelligence regarding Salamanca until the beginning of September, although the situation in Iberia would see Wellington forced back into Portugal in November. There is also the Malet coup. All interesting developments to consider before 1813.
Actually, there was a window of opportunity for Napoleon to engage and defeat the Russians at Vitebsk (not sure if this would end a war). After the 1st and 2nd armies finally joined, Bagration and pretty much everybody else had been pressuring Barclay to give a battle against his better judgement. A result was a series of confused back and forth marches (information about Napoleon’s moves had been changing and so was Barclay’s mood) that resulted in a serious loss of a moral. If at that point Napoleon decisively marched forward, he could force a battle and almost definitely win it. But, because this would be a straightforward engagement, a victory probably was not going to end with annihilation and the following peace would not be guaranteed. So Napoleon opted for a complicated maneuver which was intended to cut off the Russian retreat line at Smolensk (fully ignoring existence of the small roads) but to a great degree was relying on an assumption that the Russians will behave as the Prussians after Jena and surrender a fortress at the sight of the French cavalry. The rest is known.

As for the dispute “Vitebsk vs. Moscow”, IMO it was irrelevant: as soon as the 1st Army was not destroyed at Drissa, campaign was pretty much lost one way or another.
 
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I really don't get the point of the beeline for Moscow. It's not the capital and it's deep within Russia requiring a longer advance with massive exposed flanks. Meanwhile St. Petersburg actually is the Capital, the Baltic provides a secure flank, it is closer to the invasion's "starting line", and the climate is more moderate due to the Baltic's moderating effect.

Seriously, what gives?
 
I really don't get the point of the beeline for Moscow. It's not the capital and it's deep within Russia requiring a longer advance with massive exposed flanks. Meanwhile St. Petersburg actually is the Capital, the Baltic provides a secure flank, it is closer to the invasion's "starting line", and the climate is more moderate due to the Baltic's moderating effect.

Seriously, what gives?
From what I understand, it was because Napoleon wanted to strike a psychological blow to the Russians. Moscow was, and forever will be, the true heartland of Russia. It may not have been the political capital at the time, but Napoleon was banking on capturing Moscow to destroy further Russian resolve and bring Alexander to the negotiating table.

To make best use of the Baltic in covering one of his flanks, he also would have needed a good fleet to keep his army supplied. Land-based supply routes to St. Petersburg would still be prone to being overextended, while that whole region was as susceptible to disease and harsh weather as the road to Moscow was. There was no immediately available fleet in the Baltic among any of his allies and building a brand new one would take more money and time then Napoleon was willing to spend. And as someone else pointed out, maybe the Russian cavalry isn't harassing the Grande Armée from all sides, but the British Navy certainly could. There would be no one to stop them from having free reign in the Baltic and wreaking their own kind of havoc on Napoleon's supply lines. They destroyed the Danish Navy for the sole reason of denying it's usage by Napoleon for whatever scheme he was coming up with and if he had the Danish Navy available to him, he would have probably given a Baltic invasion much more serious thought.

Napoleon needed a big win as soon as he could manage and gambled that a direct assault toward Moscow would be the fastest way to achieve that objective.
 
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