The Map That Made A Nation Mourn - An Illustration Of Napoleon's Doomed Russian Campaign
The granddaddy of infographs, this flow map captures the horrific results of Napoleon's Russian Campaign of 1812 in a manner that words cannot.
Completed in 1869 by Charles Joseph Minard, the illustration depicting the retreat of the Grande Armée from Moscow is called "the best statistical graphic ever drawn" by Edward Tufte, author of the 1983 statistical benchmark The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.
The chart displays six metrics within the outward (gold) and returning (black) paths: time, temperature, geography, and both course & direction of the army's movement. The disastrous sum of this information is immediately apparent: on June 24, 1812, the largest army ever assembled up to that point in European history left Poland to invade Russia. 422,000 men crossed the Niemen river on their way to Moscow; six months later the troops returned to cross the same river, only 10,000 alive to see the Niemen again.
The combination of a brutal winter, poor supplies and unconventional Russian tactics (engagement withdrawals, scorched-earth policies) led to the devastating outcome of Napoleon's campaign, charted above with horrifying precision. The crossing of the Bérézina river is a prime example of the carnage: as the troops attempt to cross the river under heavy attack the black line loses half its width, a stark portrayal of 20,000 lives lost with the stroke of a pen.
English translation of map heading:
Figurative Map of the successive losses in men of the French Army in the Russian campaign 1812-1813.
Drawn by Mr. Minard, Inspector General of Bridges and Roads in retirement. Paris, 20 November 1869.
The numbers of men present are represented by the widths of the colored zones in a rate of one millimeter for ten thousand men; these are also written beside the zones. Red designates men moving into Russia, black those on retreat. — The informations used for drawing the map were taken from the works of Messrs. Chiers, de Ségur, de Fezensac, de Chambray and the unpublished diary of Jacob, pharmacist of the Army since 28 October.
In order to facilitate the judgement of the eye regarding the diminution of the army, I supposed that the troups under Prince Jèrôme and under Marshal Davoust, who were sent to Minsk and Mobilow and who rejoined near Orscha and Witebsk, had always marched with the army.