In 1869, retired French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard summarized eyewitness accounts and drew a map illustrating Napoleon’s 1812 campaign against Russia and the defeat of the Grand Army. According to Minard, during the war’s bloody 197 days, the strength of Napoleon’s forces dwindled from 422,000 all the way down to 10,000.
The map showing the French army’s losses in manpower during the Russian campaign of 1812–1813.
Is it true that in 1812 Napoleon lost 90% of his troops? And if so, how did it happen and why?
Minard lays out some answers to these questions in the form of statistics and line width: tactical errors, hasty decisions, exhausting foot marches, fruitless battles and a brutally severe climate.
We looked into the accuracy of Minard’s statistics and tried to show where exactly the route of the Grand Army lay and to find out what factors resulted in its defeat.
The route of Napoleon’s army is recreated on a modern geographical map. The height columns illustrate the number of troops under Napoleon’s command at different phases of the campaign. The names and boundaries of cities may be different from the historical ones. All dates are according to the Gregorian Calendar (New Style).
Harvard scholar and graphics guru Edward Tufte created the 3d version map and published on ArcGIS Online as a 3D Web Scene.