The peace between France and Russia in 1807 lasted for five years but was not satisfactory to either side. The Tilsit settlement was thought of by Napoleon as no more than a convenient truce. In 1807 he had been in no position to invade Russia but there was no way that he could tolerate another European power for very long. Napoleon felt that a war with Russia was necessary for crushing England by crushing the only power still strong enough him any trouble by joining her.
Napoleon began preparing for the war. He secured the support of Austria and Prussia since even though neither was in any position to refuse. Emperor Francis of Austria provided 34,000 men to cover the French but sent secret messages to St. Petersburg assuring Alexander that Austrian hostilities would be kept to a minimum. Prussia though was placed in a less fortunate position. With Berlin occupied by French and most of their 1807 debt to be paid it had no alternative but to provide 25,000 men and supply quarters and rations for the entire army. The rest of Napoleons Grand Army came from the many countries under his direct control. The Kingdom of Italy sent 45,000 men, the Grand Duchy of Warsaw 35,000. The Kingdoms of Bavaria, Saxony and Westphalia each sent 17,000 men and there were many additions from various other nations under Napoleons control. In all the army totaled to 600,000 men.
While Napoleon had an enormous army he made though inadequate preparations for supplying the troops. The provisions that he arranged for were not intended to provide all that the troops would need as they fought their way to Moscow. This was because Napoleon visualized a short campaign ending in a decisive victory. In a speech to his troops on June 22 he announced that In less than two months time the Russians will be asking for peace.
His main striking force consisted of 235,000 men. Two smaller forces, each of 70,000 men and commanded by Eugene Beauharna and Jerome Bonaparte, were back on his right, and the wings were covered by Prussian and Austrian troops. The attacking force alone consisted of 375,000 men with more than 100,000 horses and would be advancing on a narrow front. Where after the first wave of men and horses had passed there would not be a blade of grass left to feed those who followed.
In the space between the Klaipeda and the Pripet marshes lay two Russian armies. Barclay de Tolly’s First Army of the West, which consisted of 110,000 strong men, was around Vilna and to their left was Prince Bagrations Second Army of the West, which consisted of 60,000 men. The Third Army of the West under Tormasov consisted of 45,000 men that were mostly recruits. It was stationed to the south of the marshes, and had the task of keeping the Austrians under observation. There were also many other Russian armies being formed and larger armies from Finland and Romania were marching towards the Polish front. In the summer of 1812 though only the 215,00 men from the three Armies of the West were available to fight against the half million of the Grand Army.
Napoleon’s plan was to separate Barclay’s army from Bagration and to
defeat Barclay while Eugene and Jerome kept Bagration busy. The Czar had adopted a plan made by Ernst von Phull, a Prussian colonel. His plan was more of a defensive strategy. He planned that Barclay would fall back 150 miles to the town of Drissa on the East Bank of the Dvina River. There, Barclays army would remain in a camp fortified and entrenched and wait for Napoleon. The Czar gave Barclay the task of coordinating the movements of the First and Second Armies according to the plan. Bagration (commander of the Second Army) though was a higher-ranking officer than Barclay and did not want to listen to anything Barclay had to say. This produced some problems in the future.
On June 24th the French crossed the Niemen River into Russian territory and were unopposed. After four days Napoleon reached Vilna and even though no battles had been fought yet he declared My maneuvers have disconcerted the