Deep into the invasion of Russia, Napoleon sought to force a major engagement with the bulk of the Russian army at Smolensk. However, the majority of the enemy army lay across the Dnieper River with only three locations to cross.
Arriving before the main force, Murat attempted to push into the city and seize the bridges across the Dnieper but with the fires enveloping the city slowing his advance, a firm foothold was not established.
The following day, as the fires were extinguished, Murat departed to the southeast, taking several cavalry corps to construct pontoon bridges as another way to cross the Dnieper.
Napoleon arrived with the main body and relaunched a series of bloody attacks to seize the rest of the city. Despite the lack of artillery support, the I French Corps pushed across the Dnieper but a series of Russian counterattacks pushed it back, breaking it in the process.
Undeterred, Napoleon directed the III and V Corps against the city center, which broke one Russian corps and forced a withdrawal on another. Facing an impossible decision, Barclay and Bagration launch another desperate counterattack to save an imperiled Russian corps and with a series of stunning attacks, obliterated the French gains and pushed the French back across the Dnieper.
With his main force drastically reduced, Napoleon was forced to retire for the remainder of the day, waiting for the rest of his reinforcements to arrive. The main effort now laid with Murat.
Far to the southeast, Murat crossed the Dnieper in force but his units were primarily cavalry and not up to the task of defending against the amassing Russian forces. Sensing an opportunity to break the French, Barclay and Bagration launched a general offensive with their split and unwieldy force. The French sought to launch a counter charge on the left flank with the II Cavalry Corps but when this was beaten back, the rest of the line fell back to avoid being encompassed by the encroaching Russians. The right flank held for several hours but yielded under pressure.
The resulting clash forced all of Murat’s forces back across the pontoon bridges and left the Russians in possession of the eastern side of the river. The threat from Murat had been contained.
Napoleon, meanwhile, was able to batter the holdover force in Smolensk. The city caught fire once more, which slowed progress but despite a valiant Russian defense, Napoleon crossed over and despite considerable losses, he swept the opposition away. Still, the way was open east but by the time his two corps were in position, the Russian had pivoted away from the crossing to the southeast and had hastily erected a defensive line blocking the way. With morale low but equal among the two sides, even when factoring the loss of Smolensk, Napoleon decided to suspend operations and recuperate. The battle ceased after four grueling days.
Much like the real life battle, the French did not land the decisive blow against the Russian army. The Russians proved to be too stubborn in defending the city of Smolensk and wisely counterattacked the French bridgehead southeast of the city. Having survived, Barclay and Bagration would have retired east, setting the stage for the next scenario, Borodino.
Whoa, what a gruelling slugfest! Quite appropriate for the battles of that campaign.