"an unexpected battle at Smolensk"

The Battle of Smolensk took place on 4th-6th August 1812. Smolensk, on the banks of the Dneiper, was protected by its fortress-like walls and bastions and believed to be impregnable. The French Grand Army of 180,000 met a Russian force of 120,000. Napoleon was hoping for a swift victory that would ease his way to Moscow, but instead the battle stretched out over three days. The bombardment of Smolensk set the city on fire, destroying its historical centre, which had been regarded as one of the architectural highlights of Russia. Although Napoleon eventually captured the city, he lost 20,000 men in doing so (twice the number as the Russians) and the long battle delayed his advance, weakening his army.