24-25 October, 1812

While in Moscow preparing for retreat, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to march his army south-west towards Kaluga, a city in a lush region where plenty of supplies could be found.

He sent his stepson, Eugene Beauharnais, and 15,000 men ahead of the main Grande Armee to clear the way of any opposing Russian forces.

On 24 October, Eugene approached Maloyaroslavets determined to get control of a major bridge across the River Lusha.

A Russian force of 20,000 men under Dimitri Dokhturov occupied the town but, despite the odds against him, Eugene immediately launched a series of assaults to capture the bridge and establish a bridgehead on the far bank.

The fighting was fierce and the span changed hands at least seven times before Eugene committed his last reserves and threw Dokhturov's men - together with new reinforcements - out of their positions. The Russians then fell back to hills outside Maloyaroslavets.

Eugene lost 5000 men in the struggle, while the Russians some 6000.

Sporadic fighting occurred the next morning, but the 25th is best remembered for being the day cossacks nearly captured Bonaparte. After that, he was wore a bag of poison around his neck.

It was also the day that the emperor changed his mind - and path of retreat - and turned his army north, away from the provisions at Kaluga, and headed towards the now-barren route the Grande Armee had taken on its march to Moscow.



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