On 24 June 1812, the 450.000 men of the Napoleon's Grande Armée, the largest army assembled up to that point in European history, crossed the Nemunas River in the territory of Lithuania and headed towards Moscow – the French invasion of Russia began. The official political aim of the campaign was to liberate Poland from the threat of Russia. Napoleon named the campaign the Second Polish War to gain favor with the Poles and provide a political pretext for his actions. Russian campaign was the greatest and bloodiest of the Napoleonic campaigns, involving more than 1.5 million soldiers, with over 500.000 French and 400.000 Russian casualties.

By 1813, Napoleon could count on more than a million soldiers in his Grande Armée, which was made up of not only French units, but also foreign ones too, including Polish, Dutch, Italian and Spanish regiments.

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