As it is colloquially known, he Minard map was published in 1869 on the subject of Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign of 1812. French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard’s maps and graphics are often cited among the best in information design and this is perhaps the most famous of his works.
The schematic flow approach of this statistical graphic, which is also a map, displays 6 separate variables in a single two-dimensional image: geography, time, temperature, the course and direction of the army’s movement, and the number of troops remaining. The map has been described as one of the most complete statistical maps of all time by Edward Tufte and it’s rare to find a list of classic maps that argues with this commendation.
It is superbly clear in its representation using only two colours with black emphasizing the death toll on the retreat. The horrific human cost is the story of the map as Napoleon entered Russia with 442,000 men and returned with barely 10,000 which included some 6,000 that had rejoined from the north, symbolized as 1mm of line width to 10,000 men. The geography of the battles are marked and the temperature shown across the bottom supports interpretation.
Napoleon underestimated the vastness of Russia and the inhospitable winters. Minard exquisitely mapped the total disaster.