Chapter 27

THE WHOLE of that day, the 25th of August, Napoleon spent, so his historians relate, on horseback, inspecting the locality, criticising the plans submitted to him by his marshals, and giving commands in person to his generals.

The original line of the Russian disposition, along the Kolotcha, had been broken through, and, in consequence of the taking of the Shevardino redoubt on the previous day, part of that line—the left flank—had been drawn further back. That part of the line had not been strengthened, was no longer protected by the river, and more open and level ground lay before it. It was obvious to any man, military or non-military, that it was that part of the line that the French should attack. One would have thought that no great deliberation would be necessary to reach this conclusion; that all the care and anxiety of the Emperor and his marshals were unnecessary, and that there was absolutely no need of that peculiar high degree of talent called genius, which they are so fond of ascribing to Napoleon. But the historians, who described the battle afterwards, and the men surrounding Napoleon at the time, and he himself, thought otherwise.

Napoleon rode about the field, gazing with a profound air at the country, wagging his head approvingly or dubiously to himself, and without communicating to the generals around him the profound chain of reasoning that guided him in his decisions, conveyed to them merely the final conclusions in the form of commands. Upon the suggestion being made by Davoust, now styled Duke of Eckmühl, for turning the Russian left flank, Napoleon said there was no need to do this, without explaining why there was no need. But to the proposal of General Compans (who was to attack the advanced earthworks), to lead his division through the forest, Napoleon signified his assent, although the so-called Duke of Elchingen, that is, Ney, ventured to observe that to move troops through woodland is risky, and might break up the formation of the division.

After examining the nature of the country opposite the Shevardino redoubt, Napoleon pondered a little while in silence and pointed to the spots where two batteries were to be placed by the morrow for action against the Russian fortifications, and the spots where, in a line with them, the field artillery was to be arranged.

After giving these and other commands, he went back to his quarters, and the disposition of the troops was written down from his dictation.

This disposition, of which the French speak with enthusiasm, and other historians with profound respect, consisted of the following instructions:

“Two new batteries, to be placed during the night on the plain occupied by the Duke of Eckmühl, will open fire at dawn on the two opposite batteries of the enemy.

“At the same time General Pernetti, in command of the artillery of the 1st corps, with thirty cannons of Compans’s division, and all the howitzers of Desaix and Friant’s division, will move forward, open fire, and shower shells on the enemy’s battery, against which there will be at once in action:

24 cannons of the artillery of the Guards,
30 cannons of Compans’s division, and
8 cannons of Friant and Desaix’s division

In all 62 cannons.

“General Fouché, in command of the artillery of the 3rd corps, will place all the sixteen howitzers of the 3rd and 8th corps at the flanks of the battery, told off to bombard the left fortification, making forty guns in all aimed against it.

“General Sorbier is to be in readiness to advance on the word being given, with all the howitzers of the artillery of the Guards against either of the enemy’s fortifications.

“During the cannonade Prince Poniatovsky is to advance to the village in the wood, and to turn the enemy’s position.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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