(d) The Russian War of 1812 (Borodino and the retreat from Moscow).
When it fails it is because its inventor himself hesitates to push his own conception to its full development (Eckmiihl 1809, Borodino 1812).
In the more congenial grande guerre of Russia and Germany he was in his element, and at Smolensk, Borodino and Leipzig he did brilliant service.
In the Spanish campaign of 1810 and 1811 he gained special distinction at the battle of Fuentes d'Onor; and in the expedition to Russia he was present at Smolensk and Valutina, and displayed such bravery and ability in the battle of Borodino that he was made general of division.
After Smolensk Napoleon sought a battle beyond Dorogobuzh at Vyazma, and then at Tsarevo-Zaymishche, but it happened that owing to a conjunction of innumerable circumstances the Russians could not give battle till they reached Borodino, seventy miles from Moscow.
On the twenty-fourth of August the battle of the Shevardino Redoubt was fought, on the twenty-fifth not a shot was fired by either side, and on the twenty-sixth the battle of Borodino itself took place.
Why and how were the battles of Shevardino and Borodino given and accepted?
Why was the battle of Borodino fought?
Before the battle of Borodino our strength in proportion to the French was about as five to six, but after that battle it was little more than one to two: previously we had a hundred thousand against a hundred and twenty thousand; afterwards little more than fifty thousand against a hundred thousand.
In giving and accepting battle at Borodino, Kutuzov acted involuntarily and irrationally.
On the other question, how the battle of Borodino and the preceding battle of Shevardino were fought, there also exists a definite and well- known, but quite false, conception.
The Russians, they say, fortified this position in advance on the left of the highroad (from Moscow to Smolensk) and almost at a right angle to it, from Borodino to Utitsa, at the very place where the battle was fought.
Not only did the Russians not fortify the position on the field of Borodino to the left of, and at a right angle to, the highroad (that is, the position on which the battle took place), but never till the twenty- fifth of August, 1812, did they think that a battle might be fought there.
The case was evidently this: a position was selected along the river Kolocha--which crosses the highroad not at a right angle but at an acute angle--so that the left flank was at Shevardino, the right flank near the village of Novoe, and the center at Borodino at the confluence of the rivers Kolocha and Voyna.
To anyone who looks at the field of Borodino without thinking of how the battle was actually fought, this position, protected by the river Kolocha, presents itself as obvious for an army whose object was to prevent an enemy from advancing along the Smolensk road to Moscow.
Napoleon, riding to Valuevo on the twenty-fourth, did not see (as the history books say he did) the position of the Russians from Utitsa to Borodino (he could not have seen that position because it did not exist), nor did he see an advanced post of the Russian army, but while pursuing the Russian rearguard he came upon the left flank of the Russian position--at the Shevardino Redoubt--and unexpectedly for the Russians moved his army across the Kolocha.
By crossing to the other side of the Kolocha to the left of the highroad, Napoleon shifted the whole forthcoming battle from right to left (looking from the Russian side) and transferred it to the plain between Utitsa, Semenovsk, and Borodino--a plain no more advantageous as a position than any other plain in Russia--and there the whole battle of the twenty-sixth of August took place.
But as the attack on our left flank took place in the evening after the retreat of our rear guard (that is, immediately after the fight at Gridneva), and as the Russian commanders did not wish, or were not in time, to begin a general engagement then on the evening of the twenty-fourth, the first and chief action of the battle of Borodino was already lost on the twenty-fourth, and obviously led to the loss of the one fought on the twenty-sixth.
So the battle of Borodino did not take place at all as (in an effort to conceal our commanders' mistakes even at the cost of diminishing the glory due to the Russian army and people) it has been described.
The battle of Borodino was not fought on a chosen and entrenched position with forces only slightly weaker than those of the enemy, but, as a result of the loss of the Shevardino Redoubt, the Russians fought the battle of Borodino on an open and almost unentrenched position, with forces only half as numerous as the French; that is to say, under conditions in which it was not merely unthinkable to fight for ten hours and secure an indecisive result, but unthinkable to keep an army even from complete disintegration and flight.
"Borodino," the other corrected him.
There's our center, at Borodino, just there, and he pointed to the village in front of them with the white church.
They rode across that bridge into the village of Borodino and thence turned to the left, passing an enormous number of troops and guns, and came to a high knoll where militiamen were digging.
On August 25, the eve of the battle of Borodino, M. de Beausset, prefect of the French Emperor's palace, arrived at Napoleon's quarters at Valuevo with Colonel Fabvier, the former from Paris and the latter from Madrid.
The fourth order was: The vice-King will occupy the village (Borodino) and cross by its three bridges, advancing to the same heights as Morand's and Gibrard's divisions (for whose movements no directions are given), which under his leadership will be directed against the redoubt and come into line with the rest of the forces.
As far as one can make out, not so much from this unintelligible sentence as from the attempts the vice-King made to execute the orders given him, he was to advance from the left through Borodino to the redoubt while the divisions of Morand and Gerard were to advance simultaneously from the front.
After passing through Borodino the vice-King was driven back to the Kolocha and could get no farther; while the divisions of Morand and Gerard did not take the redoubt but were driven back, and the redoubt was only taken at the end of the battle by the cavalry (a thing probably unforeseen and not heard of by Napoleon).
Many historians say that the French did not win the battle of Borodino because Napoleon had a cold, and that if he had not had a cold the orders he gave before and during the battle would have been still more full of genius and Russia would have been lost and the face of the world have been changed.
If it had depended on Napoleon's will to fight or not to fight the battle of Borodino, and if this or that other arrangement depended on his will, then evidently a cold affecting the manifestation of his will might have saved Russia, and consequently the valet who omitted to bring Napoleon his waterproof boots on the twenty-fourth would have been the savior of Russia.