By Paul Comben
In the last weeks of 1812 Napoleon had witnessed the wholesale destruction of the army he had led to the gates of Moscow. Too long a stay in that abandoned and razed city; too readily beguiled and deceived by the illusion that the Tsar might yet come to terms; too much indecision; too little supply; an abundance of Cossack raiders and the winter’s relentless cold, all had played their part in reducing La Grande Armée to nothing but the last straggling fragments of total ruin. Not too long after the desperate crossing of the Berezina, the emperor informed his marshals that he was leaving the army and hastening on to Paris. Murat was left in overall command, and whilst he falteringly went about the discharge of a duty far removed from all his customary notions of martial splendour, Napoleon raced across Europe in a small and anonymous group of vehicles, and was in the French capital a little under three weeks later.