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In the year 1812, Napoleon Buonaparte, after conquering nearly the whole of Europe, invaded Russia, and led his victorious army to Moscow, the ancient capital of that country. Soon this city, with its winding streets, its hills, its splendid churches, its fine houses and cottages so mixed together, its corn-fields, woods, and gardens, as well as the Kremlin, consisting of several churches, palaces, and halls collected on the top of a hill and surrounded by walls, fell into the power of the French.
Rostopchin, the Governor, impelled by bigoted patriotism, resolved to set fire to the city confided to him by his imperial master Alexander, the Czar of all the Russias.
It was truly a heart-rending sight to witness the misfortunes of the inhabitants, forced to quit their homes to escape a horrible death.
The provisions stored in the granaries and other places were consumed in the flames.
The conflagration lasted about ten days, until almost the whole of Moscow was laid in ashes. The main body of the Russian army had retired towards Tula, and taken up a strong position on the road leading towards that town, in order to prevent the French from advancing into the interior of the country. Thus they were hemming them in on all sides, only leaving them the choice of being starved or burned, or returning by the way they had come, and wintering in Poland. This latter expedient might have saved the army had it been adopted in time.
The terrible Cossacks, first-rate riders, with lances ten feet long, and a musket slung over their right shoulder, were swarming around everywhere, and annoying the French outposts, cutting off the foraging parties, and hindering them in their attempt to penetrate into the south of Russia, where they would have found plenty of provisions for the winter.