“Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’Armée française dans la campagne de Russie en 1812-1813”, is a graphical depiction of the losses of French Army during Napoleon’s ruinous invasion of Russia of 1812-13, (cf. War and Peace by L.Tolstoy) drawn in 1869 by Charles Joseph Minard, a former French civil engineer.
Starting the march near Kowno with 422.000 men, (a number graphically described on the flow map by a large line, each millimeter of which corresponds to 6000 men), the French Army progressively lost soldiers while advancing through Belarus towards Moscow. The Russians defense strategy was to fall back and burn down villages, towns and crops, preventing the French from living off their land, letting them die from starvation or malnutrition or killing them during night when they desperately left their camp in order to search for food. After three months the Russian Army was finally caught by the French in the small town of of Borodino, seventy miles west of Moscow. Napoleon won with great losses (about 27.000), leaving his army with only 100.000 men left. Although able to enter Moscow one week later, Napoleon found an empty and burned down city, without any delegation there to meet him and negotiate for peace. His troops exhausted, with few rations and his remaining horses in poor condition, Napoleon was forced to retreat.
The black flow of the map describes the retreat and the corresponding falling temperatures during the Russian Winter: as the French army went back the way it came, the number of the soldies kept falling down for hypothermia with a line growing thinner and thinner. Of 50.000 soldiers near the river Bérézina, only 28.000 were able to cross. Back in Kowno, the departing city, of the original 422.000 men, only 10000 were left.
Considered by many (namely by Edward Tufte) of the best infographic diagrams ever done, the map is able to convey five variables, without sacrificing the readability of the whole:
The size of the army – providing a strong visual representation of human suffering, e.g. the sudden decrease of the army’s size at the battle crossing the Berezina river on the retreat;
The geographical co-ordinates, latitude and longitude, of the army as it moved;
The direction that the army was traveling, both in advance and in retreat, showing where units split off and rejoined;
The location of the army with respect to certain dates; and
The weather temperature along the path of the retreat, in another strong visualisation of events (during the retreat “one of the worst winters in recent memory set in”).
(Info from Wikipedia)
Watch this very explanatory video:
Re-visions of Minard