The Grande Armée Crosses the Nieman

On the night of June 23, 1812, Napoleon ordered three pontoon bridges to be built across the Nieman river.  The following morning, the men began to cross and enter Russian territory (Lithuania).  Philippe-Paul de Ségur describes the scene as the first soldiers approached the bridge: “Enthusiasm ran to high that

Crossing the three bridges over the Nieman

two divisions of the vanguard, contending for the honor of crossing first, almost came to blows, and were restrained with difficulty.  Napoleon was impatient to set foot on Russian territory.  Without faltering he took that first step toward his ruin.  He stood for a time at the head of the bridge, encouraging the soldiers with his look.  All saluted him with their usual Vive l’Empereur! They seemed more excited than he …”

Source: Napoleon’s Russian Campaign by Philippe-Paul de Ségur

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