Chapter 2

THE ARMED FORCES of twelve different nationalities of Europe invade Russia. The Russian army and population fall back, avoiding a battle, to Smolensk, and from Smolensk to Borodino. The French army moves on to Moscow, its goal, with continually increasing impetus. The impetus of its advance is increased as it approaches its goal, just as the velocity of a falling body increases as it gets nearer the earth. Behind them thousands of versts of famine-stricken, hostile country; before them some dozens of versts between them and their goal. Every soldier of Napoleon’s army feels it, and the expedition advances of itself, by the force of its own impetus.

In the Russian troops the spirit of fury, of hatred of the foe, burns more and more fiercely during their retreat; it gathers strength and concentration as they draw back. At Borodino the armies meet. Neither army is destroyed, but the Russian army, immediately after the conflict, retreats as inevitably as a ball rebounds after contact with another ball flying with greater impetus to meet it. And just as inevitably (though parting with its force in the contact) the ball of the invading army is carried for a space further by the energy, not yet fully spent, within it.

The Russians retreat one hundred and twenty versts beyond Moscow; the French reach Moscow and there halt. For five weeks after this there is not a single battle. The French do not move. Like a wild beast mortally wounded, bleeding and licking its wounds, for five weeks the French remain in Moscow, attempting nothing; and all at once, with nothing new to account for it, they flee back; they make a dash for the Kaluga road (after a victory, too, for they remained in possession of the field of battle at Maley Yaroslavets); and then, without a single serious engagement, fly more and more rapidly back to Smolensk, to Vilna, to the Berezina, and beyond it.

On the evening of the 26th of August, Kutuzov and the whole Russian army were convinced that the battle of Borodino was a victory. Kutuzov wrote to that effect to the Tsar. He ordered the troops to be in readiness for another battle, to complete the defeat of the enemy, not because he wanted to deceive any one, but because he knew that the enemy was vanquished, as every one who had taken part in the battle knew it.

But all that evening and next day news was coming in of unheard-of losses, of the loss of one-half of the army, and another battle turned out to be physically impossible.

It was impossible to give battle when information had not yet come in, the wounded had not been removed, the ammunition stores had not been filled up, the slain had not been counted, new officers had not been appointed to replace the dead, and the men had had neither food nor sleep. And meanwhile, the very next morning after the battle, the French army of itself moved down upon the Russians, carried on by the force of its own impetus, accelerated now in inverse ratio to the square of the distance from its goal. Kutuzov’s wish was to attack next day, and all the army shared this desire. But to make an attack it is not sufficient to desire to do so; there must also be a possibility of doing so, and this possibility there was not. It was impossible not to retreat one day’s march, and then it was as impossible not to retreat a second and a third day’s march, and finally, on the 1st of September, when the army reached Moscow, despite the force of the growing feeling in the troops, the force of circumstances compelled those troops to retreat beyond Moscow. And the troops retreated one more last day’s march, and abandoned Moscow to the enemy.

Persons who are accustomed to suppose that plans of campaigns and of battles are made by generals in the same way as any of us sitting over a map in our study make plans of how we would have acted in such and such a position, will be perplexed by questions why Kutuzov, if he had to retreat, did not take this or that course, why he did not take up a position before Fili, why he did not at once retreat to the Kaluga road, leaving Moscow, and so on. Persons accustomed to think in this way forget, or do not know, the inevitable conditions which always limit the action of any commander-in-chief. The action of a commander-in-chief in the field has no sort of resemblance to the action we imagine to ourselves, sitting at our ease in our study, going over some campaign on the map with a certain given number of soldiers on each side, in a certain known locality, starting our plans from a certain moment. The general is never

  By PanEris using Melati.

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