Highway to the Kremlin

Napoleon's March on Moscow, 1812

Napoleon rode upstream from Kovno to select a crossing place over the Niemen River. Removing his familiar colonel's coat he put on the jacket and black-silk kalpak of a Polish lancer. His companions who all advised against this invasion, Berthier, Davout, Caulaincourt, and the engineer Haxo-did the same. The Emperor was in a pensive, somber mood. Galloping back to headquarters, a startled hare got under his horse, causing him to fall.

This was an inauspicious portent and coupled with his associates' misgivings would have stopped a Roman general in his tracks. Agents brought news placing Bagration near Volkovisk and Barclay between Lida and Keidany, with reserves near Svenciany. From of Ney's Third Corps headquarters at Marianpole, came the report of a Jewish merchant who had just returned from Lithuania: the Russians were pulling their forces back, leaving a few Cossacks to keep an eye on the French. Alexander's generals were left guessing at just how great were the forces Napoleon had brought to their borders. The highest estimates, those of Barclay de Tolly and Phull, credited Napoleon with having close to 250,000 men. In reality, the Grande Armee was twice as massive, totalling 437,500 plus two corps in reserve.*
(*Curtis Cate, War of the Two Emperors)