Chapter 33

THE CHIEF ACTION of the battle of Borodino was fought on the space seven thousand feet in width between Borodino and Bagration’s flèches. Outside that region, on one side there was the action on the part of Uvarov’s cavalry in the middle of the day; on the other side, behind Utitsa, there was the skirmish between Poniatovsky and Tutchkov; but those two actions were detached and of little importance in comparison with what took place in the centre of the battlefield. The chief action of the day was fought in the simplest and the most artless fashion on the open space, visible from both sides, between Borodino and the flèches by the copse.

The battle began with a cannonade from several hundreds of guns on both sides. Then, when the whole plain was covered with smoke, on the French side the two divisions of Desaix and Compans advanced on the right upon the flèches, and on the left the viceroy’s regiments advanced upon Borodino. The flèches were a verst from the Shevardino redoubt, where Napoleon was standing; but Borodino was more than two versts further, in a straight line, and therefore Napoleon could not see what was passing there, especially as the smoke, mingling with the fog, completely hid the whole of that part of the plain. The soldiers of Desaix’s division, advancing upon the flèches, were in sight till they disappeared from view in the hollow that lay between them and the flèches. As soon as they dropped down into the hollow, the smoke of the cannon and muskets on the flèches became so thick that it concealed the whole slope of that side of the hollow. Through the smoke could be caught glimpses of something black, probably men, and sometimes the gleam of bayonets. But whether they were stationary or moving, whether they were French or Russian, could not be seen from Shevardino.

The sun had risen brightly, and its slanting rays shone straight in Napoleon’s face as he looked from under his hand towards the flèches. The smoke hung over the flèches, and at one moment it seemed as though it were the smoke that was moving, at the next, the troops moving in the smoke. Sometimes cries could be heard through the firing; but it was impossible to tell what was being done there.

Napoleon, standing on the redoubt, was looking through a field-glass, and in the tiny circle of the glass saw smoke and men, sometimes his own, sometimes Russians. But where what he had seen was, he could not tell when he looked again with the naked eye.

He came down from the redoubt, and began walking up and down before it.

At intervals he stood still, listening to the firing and looking intently at the battlefield.

It was not simply impossible from below, where he was standing, and from the redoubt above, where several of his generals were standing, to make out what was passing at the flèches; but on the flèches themselves, occupied now together, now alternately by French and Russians, living, dead, and wounded, the frightened and frantic soldiers had no idea what they were doing. For several hours together, in the midst of incessant cannon and musket fire, Russians and French, infantry and cavalry, had captured the place in turn; they rushed upon it, fell, fired, came into collision, did not know what to do with each other, screamed, and ran back again.

From the battlefield adjutants were continually galloping up to Napoleon with reports from his marshals of the progress of the action. But all those reports were deceptive; both because in the heat of battle it is impossible to say what is happening at any given moment, and because many of the adjutants never reached the actual battlefield, but simply repeated what they heard from others, and also because, while the adjutant was galloping the two or three versts to Napoleon, circumstances had changed, and the news he brought had already become untrue. Thus an adjutant came galloping from the viceroy with the news that Borodino had been taken and the bridge on the Kolotcha was in the hands of the French. The adjutant asked Napoleon should the troops cross the bridge. Napoleon’s command was to form on the further side and wait; but long before he gave that command, when the adjutant indeed had only just started from Borodino, the bridge had been broken down and burnt by the Russians in the very skirmish Pierre had taken part in at the beginning of the day.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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