On 17 August, the French lay siege to Smolensk, with the Russians returning fire from behind the city’s walls. Although this failed to daunt the Russians, they were forced to retreat after the city caught fire. As they retreated, the Russians destroyed the artillery reserves and bridges leading from the city. At 23.00 hrs, the Russian general Barclay de Tolly moved to the north side of the river, while General Bagration headed towards Moscow. Meanwhile, on 18 August at 02.30, Napoleon’s corps entered the burning city. Locating a ford, Marshal Michel Ney, a French commander, crossed the river and advanced on Barclay’s forces, successfully seizing a bridgehead. On the 19 August, Barclay posted a division on the Gedeonovo-Gorbunova road, splitting his corps. There they were attacked by Generals Ney and Murat’s armies. The same day, Ney’s advance outposts cornered half of Bagration’s army, who had become lost.
— OR —