An adjutant, galloping up from the flèches with a pale and frightened face, brought Napoleon word that the attack had been repulsed, and Compans wounded and Davoust killed; while meantime the flèches had been captured by another division of the troops, and Davoust was alive and well, except for a slight bruise. Upon such inevitably misleading reports Napoleon based his instructions, which had mostly been carried out before he made them, or else were never, and could never, be carried out at all.

The marshals and generals who were closer to the scene of action, but, like Napoleon, not actually taking part in it, and only at intervals riding within bullet range, made their plans without asking Napoleon, and gave their orders from where and in what direction to fire, and where the cavalry were to gallop and the infantry to run. But even their orders, like Napoleon’s, were but rarely, and to a slight extent, carried out.

For the most part what happened was the opposite of what they commanded to be done. The soldiers ordered to advance found themselves under grapeshot fire, and ran back. The soldiers commanded to stand still in one place seeing the Russians appear suddenly before them, either ran away or rushed upon them; and the cavalry unbidden galloped in after the flying Russians. In this way two cavalry regiments galloped across the Semyonovskoye hollow, and as soon as they reached the top of the hill, turned and galloped headlong back again. The infantry, in the same way, moved sometimes in the direction opposite to that in which they were commanded to move.

All decisions as to when and where to move the cannons, when to send infantry to fire, when to send cavalry to trample down the Russian infantry—all such decisions were made by the nearest officers in the ranks, without any reference to Ney, Davoust, and Murat, far less to Napoleon himself. They did not dread getting into trouble for nonfulfilment of orders, nor for assuming responsibility, because in battle what is at stake is what is most precious to every man—his own life; and at one time it seems as though safety is to be found in flying back, sometimes in flying forward; and these men placed in the very thick of the fray acted in accordance with the temper of the moment.

In reality all these movements forward and back again hardly improved or affected the position of the troops. All their onslaughts on one another did little harm; the harm, the death and disablement was the work of the cannon balls and bullets, that were flying all about the open space, where those men ran to and fro. As soon as they got out of that exposed space, over which the balls and bullets were flying, their superior officer promptly formed them in good order, and restored discipline, and under the influence of that discipline led them back under fire again; and there again, under the influence of the terror of death, they lost all discipline, and dashed to and fro at the chance promptings of the crowd.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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