On October 18th, 1812 the retreat begins. Sitting in a ruined city without having received the Russian capitulation, and facing a Russian maneuver prompting him to leave Moscow, Napoleon started his long retreat.
In its retrograde march, the army is strongly harassed by the enemy; skirmishes erupt regularly. Supplying the army becomes next to impossible. From November 1812, the Russian winter brings new torment to the army: the soldiers begin to die of hunger, cold and fatigue during walking. The total lacks of fodder weakens the horses, almost all die or are killed to feed the hungry soldiers. Without horses, the French cavalry ceased to exist, and riders must walk. However the army still drags on.
Finally, advancing by forced marches, they arrived on November 25th, on the Berezina, over which Napoleon ordered bridges to be built, work which he personally supervised. The crossing of the Berezina River brings a tactical victory for Napoleon. The Russians are pushed back, almost all men that are still able to fight, can cross the bridges. The sick, the wounded and stragglers remained on the eastern bank. On December 5th, Napoleon took a great council of war, passed the command to Murat, and left for Paris. He abandoned his army and returned in a sleigh.
On the way to Kaunas, the icy slope was fatal. This was the time of the final loss of all the remaining artillery and all the baggage. In the following, the remnants of the Grande Armée are reduced again, and December 14th, they were completely expelled from Russian territory.
The diorama shows an episode of this horrible retreat. Soldiers wear any kind of clothing to protect themselves against the cold.