Chapter 19

WHAT RUSSIAN READER has not known an irksome feeling of annoyance, dissatisfaction, and perplexity, when he reads the accounts of the latter period of the campaign of 1812? Who has not asked himself: How was it all the French were not captured or cut to pieces, when all the three Russian armies were surrounding them in superior numbers, when the French were a disorderly, starving, and freezing rabble, and the whole aim of the Russians (so history tells us) was to check, to cut off, and to capture all the French?

How was it that the Russian army, that with inferior numbers had fought the battle of Borodino, failed in its aim of capturing the French, when the latter were surrounded on three sides? Can the French be so immensely superior to us that we are not equal to beating them, when we have surrounded them with forces numerically superior? How could that have come to pass? History (what passes by that name) answers these questions by saying that that came to pass because Kutuzov, and Tormasov, and Tchitchagov, and this general and that failed to carry out certain manœuvres.

But why did they fail to carry them out? And how was it, if they really were responsible for not attaining the aim set before them, that they were not tried and punished for their shortcomings? But even if we admit that Kutuzov and Tchitchagov and the others were responsible for the non-success of the Russians, it is still impossible to understand why, in the position the Russian troops were in at Krasnoe and the Berezina, on both occasions with numerically superior forces, the French army and marshals were not taken prisoners, if that really was the aim of the Russians.

The explanation of this phenomenon given by the Russian military historians—that Kutuzov hindered the attack—is insufficient, because we know that Kutuzov was not able to restrain the troops from attacking at Vyazma and Tarutino. Why was it that the Russian army, that with inferior forces gained a victory at Borodino over the enemy in full strength, was unsuccessful at Krasnoe and the Berezina, when fighting in superior numbers against the undisciplined crowds of the French?

If the aim of the Russians really was to cut off Napoleon and his marshals, and to take them prisoners, and that aim was not only frustrated, but all attempts at attaining it were every time defeated in the most shameful way, this last period of the war is quite correctly represented by the French as a series of victories for them, and quite incorrectly represented by the Russians as redounding to our glory.

The Russian military historians, so far as they recognise the claims of logic, are forced to this conclusion, and in spite of their lyric eulogies of Russian gallantry and devotion, and all the rest of it, they are reluctantly obliged to admit that the retreat of the French from Moscow was a series of victories for Napoleon and of defeats for Kutuzov.

But putting patriotic vanity entirely aside, one cannot but feel that there is an inherent discrepancy in this conclusion, seeing that the series of French victories led to their complete annihilation, while the series of Russian defeats was followed by the destruction of their enemy, and the deliverance of their country.

The source of this discrepancy lies in the fact that historians, studying events in the light of the letters of the sovereigns and of generals, of narratives, reports, projects, and so on, have assumed quite falsely that the plan of that period of the campaign of 1812 was to cut off and capture Napoleon and his marshals and his army.

Such a plan never was, and could not have been, the aim of the Russian army, because it had no meaning, and its attainment was utterly out of the question.

There was no object in such a plan. In the first place, because Napoleon’s army was flying in disorder at its utmost possible speed out of Russia; that is to say, doing the very thing that every Russian most desired. What object was there in conducting all sorts of operations against the French when they were running away as fast as they could already? Secondly, it would have been idle to stop men on the road, whose whole energies were bent on flight. Thirdly, it would have been absurd to lose men in destroying the French army when it was already, without external interference, perishing at such a rate that, without

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