Napoleon Wasn’t Defeated by the Russians
What incredible circumstances could have caused the defeat of one of the greatest armies on the European continent, led by one of the greatest generals of all time? Surprisingly, it wasn’t enemy soldiers or the normal privations soldiers experience that devastated Napoleon’s army. Most of his soldiers were battle-hardened young men, so they should have been able to tolerate the cold, hunger, long marches, and fatigue. No, it was a microscopic organism that wreaked havoc and annihilated Napoleon’s army and his grand plans for conquest. A microbe called typhus, spread by a scourge of lice.
Typhus had been present in Poland and Russia for many years, but it had gotten worse since the Russian army had devastated Poland while retreating from Napoleon’s forces. A lack of sanitation combined with the unusually hot summer made an ideal environment for the spread of lice. Typhus is caused by the organism Rickettsia prowazekii. It would be an entire century after the 1812 campaign before scientists realized that typhus is found in the feces of lice.
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