any obstruction of their road, not more than one hundredth of its original number succeeded in crossing the frontier in December.

Fourthly, it was absurd to desire to take prisoners the Emperor, kings, and dukes, since the possession of such prisoners would have greatly enhanced the difficulty of the Russian position, as was recognised by the most clear-sighted diplomatists of the time (J. Maistre and others). Still more absurd would have been the desire to capture the French army when it had dwindled to one-half before reaching Krasnoe, and a division of convoys had to be given up to guard a corps of prisoners, while the Russian soldiers themselves had not always full rations, and the prisoners they did take died of hunger.

Any plan of cutting off and capturing Napoleon and his army, however carefully thought out, would have been like the action of a gardener who, after driving out a herd of cattle that had been trampling his beds, should run out to belabour the cattle about the head. The only thing that could be said in justification of his proceeding would be that he was greatly incensed. But the authors of this supposed plan cannot plead even this excuse, since theirs were not the gardens that had been trampled.

And, besides being absurd, to cut off the retreat of Napoleon’s army was also impossible.

It was impossible, in the first place, because, since experience shows that the movement of columns in a single battlefield at five versts’ distance never coincides with the plan of their movements, the probability that Tchitchagov, Kutuzov, and Wittgenstein would all reach an appointed spot in time was so remote that it practically amounted to impossibility. As Kutuzov in fact regarded it when he said that manœuvres planned at great distances do not produce the results expected of them.

Secondly, it was impossible, because to paralyse the force of inertia with which Napoleon’s army was rebounding back along its track, incomparably greater forces were needed than those the Russians had at their command.

Thirdly, it was impossible, because the military expression, to cut off, was really no meaning. One may cut off a slice of bread, but not an army. To cut off an army—that is, to bar its road—is impossible, because there are always many places by which the men can make a circuit to get out, and there is always the night, during which nothing can be done; a fact of which the military strategists might have been convinced by the examples of Krasnoe and Berezina. One can never take a prisoner unless he agrees to be taken, just as one can never catch a swallow, though of course it is possible if it settles on one’s hand. One can take a prisoner who will surrender, as the Germans did, in accordance with the rules of strategy and tactics. But the French soldiers very wisely did not feel it incumbent on them to do so, since death from cold and hunger awaited them as much if taken prisoner, as if persisting in their flight.

The fourth and chief reason why it was impossible is that war was waged in 1812 under conditions more terrible than ever since the world has existed; and the Russian troops strained every nerve in the pursuit of the French, and could not have done more without perishing themselves.

The Russian army lost in its march from Tarutino to Krasnoe fifty thousand sick or stragglers, that is, a number equal to the population of a large provincial town. Half of the army was lost without a battle.

At this period of the campaign the soldiers were without boots or fur-lined coats, on half rations, without vodka, camping out at night for months in the snow with fifteen degrees of frost; while there were only seven or eight hours of daylight, and the rest was night; where discipline could not exert the same influence, and men were put in peril of death, not for a few hours, as on the field of battle, but for whole months together were keeping up a struggle every moment with death from cold and hunger. And of this period of the campaign, when half the army perished in one month, the historians tell us that Miloradovitch ought to have made an oblique march in one direction, and Tormasov in another, and Tchitchagov ought to have advanced to this point (the men advancing knee-deep in the snow), and that so and so pushed through and cut the French off, and so on, and so on.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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