Charles Minard’s Classic Infographic Shows the True Human Cost of Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia

Cassie Pope

Age of Revolution French Revolution and Napoleon
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The French invasion of Russia in 1812 was the costliest campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon’s forces numbered 680,000 when they crossed the Neman River on 24 June. Less than six months later, more than 500,000 were either dead, injured, or had deserted.

The implementation of a scorched earth policy by the Russians, combined with the harsh Russian winter, starved the French army to the point of collapse.

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This infographic, produced in 1869 by French engineer Charles Minard tracks the size of the French army over the course of the Russian campaign. Their march through Russia is displayed in beige and their retreat in black. The size of the army is displayed at intervals beside the columns but their diminishing size is a sufficient visual clue to the devastating toll exacted by the campaign.

At the bottom of the image, an additional chart highlights the temperatures encountered by the French as they retreated during the harsh Russian winter, which reach as low as -30 degrees.

Cassie Pope