Chapter 19

ON THE 24th was fought the battle before the redoubt of Shevardino; on the 25th not a shot was fired on either side; on the 26th was fought the battle of Borodino.

How and with what object were the battles of Shevardino and Borodino fought? Why was the battle of Borodino fought? There was not the slightest sense in it, either for the French or for the Russians. The immediate result of it was, and was bound to be, for the Russians, that we were brought nearer to the destruction of Moscow (the very thing we dreaded above everything in the world); and for the French, that they were brought nearer to the destruction of their army (which they, too, dreaded above everything in the world). That result was at the time perfectly obvious, and yet Napoleon offered battle, and Kutuzov accepted it.

If military leaders were guided by reasonable considerations only, it would seem that it must have been clear to Napoleon that in advancing two thousand versts into the heart of the country and giving battle, with the probable contingency of losing a quarter of his men, he was going to certain destruction; and that it must have been equally clear to Kutuzov that in accepting that battle and risking the loss of a fourth of his army, he would infallibly lose Moscow. For Kutuzov this was mathematically clear, as clear as it is at chess, that if I have one piece less than my adversary and I exchange pieces, I am certain to be a loser by it, and therefore must avoid exchanging pieces. When my adversary has sixteen pieces and I have fourteen, I am only one-eighth weaker than he; but when we have exchanged thirteen pieces, he is three times as strong as I am.

Up to the battle of Borodino our forces were approximately five-sixths of the French, but after that battle they were only one-half—that is, before the battle a hundred thousand against a hundred and twenty thousand, and after the battle fifty thousand against a hundred thousand. And yet the shrewd and experienced Kutuzov fought the battle. Napoleon, a military genius, as he is called, gave battle, losing a fourth of his army and drawing his line of communications out further than ever. If we are told that he expected the taking of Moscow to complete the campaign, as the taking of Vienna had done, we may say that there are many evidences to the contrary. Napoleon’s historians themselves tell us that he wanted to halt as soon as he reached Smolensk; that he knew the danger of his extended line, and that he knew that the taking of Moscow would not be the end of the campaign, because from Smolensk he had learned in what condition the towns were left when abandoned to him, and he had not received a single reply to his reiterated expressions of a desire to open negotiations.

In giving and accepting battle at Borodino, Kutuzov and Napoleon acted without design or rational plan. After the accomplished fact historians have brought forward cunningly devised evidences of the foresight and genius of the generals, who of all the involuntary instruments of the world’s history were the most slavish and least independent agents.

The ancients have transmitted to us examples of epic poems in which the whole interest of history is concentrated in a few heroic figures; and under their influence we are still unable to accustom our minds to the idea that history of that kind is meaningless at our stage in the development of humanity.

In answer to the next question, how the battles of Borodino and Shevardino came to be fought, we have also a very definite, well-known, and utterly false account. All the historians describe the affair thus:

The Russian army, they say, in its retreat from Smolensk sought out the best position for a general engagement, and such a position they found in Borodino. The Russians, they say, fortified the position beforehand, to the left of the road (from Moscow to Smolensk) at right angles to it, from Borodino to Utitsa, at the very place where the battle was fought.

In front of this position, they tell us, a fortified earthwork was thrown up on the Shevardino redoubt as an outpost for observation of the enemy’s movements.

On the 24th, we are told, Napoleon attacked this redoubt, and took it. On the 26th he attacked the whole Russian army, which had taken up its position on the plain of Borodino.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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