Lithuania and the French-Russian War of 1812

On 24 October 1795 Russia, Austria, and Prussia signed a convention on the third partition of the Polish-Lithuanian state in St. Petersburg. The lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, except the Užnemunė region, were given to tsarist Russia. The wars of the French emperor, Napoleon I, in Europe gave Lithuanian society the hope of liberation from Russia’s rule.

Lithuania came into collision with Napoleon’s army twice, in 1807 and 1812. At the end of the war of France, Prussia, and Russia of 1806–07, when the Russian army lost the Battle of Friedland, the French army reached the Russian border – the Nemunas River. On 7 July 1807 after lengthy negotiations the Peace of Tilsit was signed between the Russian tsar Alexander I and Napoleon I. Napoleon I established the Duchy of Warsaw in the former lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which also incorporated the Užnemunė region of Lithuania. The Peace of Tilsit remained in force until the war of 1812.

On 24 June 1812 the French emperor Napoleon I entered into a war with Russia. Lithuania became a zone of military conflict of two European empires – Russia and France. On 28 June 1812 the French troops occupied Vilnius. Napoleon was favourably received by Lithuanian society. The nobility hoped to regain statehood with Napoleon’s help. By Napoleon’s order, an administrative authority, the Commission of the Provisional Government of Lithuania, was formed from the residents of Vilnius. In Lithuania it marked the beginning of the period of French rule, as it is known in historiography. This period lasted from the end of June 1812 until the beginning of December. At that time Vilnius became the political and administrative centre of the rear of the French army in the Russian Empire. Lithuania saw Napoleon’s Grand Army marching into Russia, and later, having lost the war, retreating by the same route. This army included several Lithuanian units as well. Shortly after Napoleon’s army retreated, Lithuania was occupied by the army of the Russian Empire. The hopes of restoration of Lithuania’s statehood were lost. However, the march of Napoleon’s Grand Army through Lithuania has an important place in the history of Lithuania – it helped Lithuanian society to maintain the idea of freedom. The years of French rule in Lithuania marked the beginning of the period of national liberation of the Lithuanian nation that lasted more than a hundred years.

The exhibits held at the National Museum of Lithuania convey the most significant events of Napoleon’s wars in Lithuania.

 

The Peace of Tilsit
The Grand Army of Napoleon I crosses the Nemunas River – the beginning of the war of 1812
The period of French rule in Vilnius
The Commission of the Provisional Government of Lithuania
Lithuanian units in the Grand Army of France
The retreat of the Grand Army of Napoleon I from Russia