Chapter 4

AFTER THE ENGAGEMENT at Vyazma, where Kutuzov could not restrain his troops in their desire to break through, to cut off and all the rest of it, the further march of the flying French, and of the Russians flying after them, continued as far as Krasnoe without a battle. The flight was so rapid that the Russian army racing after the French could not catch them up; the horses of the cavalry and artillery broke down, and information as to the movements of the French was always very uncertain.

The Russian soldiers were so exhausted by this unbroken march at the rate of forty versts a day that they were unable to quicken their pace.

To form an idea of the degree of exhaustion of the Russian army, one need only grasp clearly what is meant by the fact that while losing no more than five thousand killed and wounded, and not a hundred prisoners, the Russian army, which had left Tarutino a hundred thousand strong, numbered only fifty thousand on reaching Krasnoe.

The rapidity of the Russian pursuit had as disintegrating an effect on the Russian army as the flight of the French had on their army. The only difference was that the Russian army moved at its own will, free from the menace of annihilation that hung over the French, and that the sick and stragglers of the French were left in the hands of their enemy, while Russian stragglers were at home among their own people. The chief cause of the wasting of Napoleon’s army was the rapidity of its movements, and an indubitable proof of that is to be seen in the corresponding dwindling of the Russian army.

Just as at Tarutino and at Vyazma, all Kutuzov’s energies were directed to preventing—so far as it lay in his power—any arrest of the fatal flight of the French from being checked (as the Russian generals in Petersburg, and also in the army, wished it to be). He did all he could to urge on the flight of the French, and to slacken the speed of his own army.

In addition to the exhaustion of the men, and the immense losses due to the rapidity of their movements, Kutuzov saw another reason for slackening the pace, and not being in a hurry. The object of the Russian army was the pursuit of the French. The route of the French was uncertain, and therefore the more closely our soldiers followed the heels of the French, the greater the distances they had to traverse. It was only by following at a considerable distance that they could take advantage of short cuts across the zig-zags made by the French in their course. All the skilful manœuvres suggested by the generals were based on forced marches at accelerated speed, while the only rational object to be aimed at was the diminution of the strain put on the men. And this was the object to which all Kutuzov’s efforts were directed during the whole campaign from Moscow to Vilna,—not casually, not fitfully, but so consistently that he never once lost sight of it.

Not through reason, not by science, but with all his Russian heart and soul, Kutuzov felt and knew, as every Russian soldier felt it, that the French were vanquished, that their foes were in flight, and that they must see them off. But at the same time he felt with his soldiers, as one man, all the sufferings of that march, unheard of at such speed and in such weather.

But the generals, especially those not Russian, burning to distinguish themselves, to dazzle people, to take some duke or king prisoner for some incomprehensible reason—those generals thought that then, when any battle was sickening and meaningless, was the very time for fighting battles and conquering somebody. Kutuzov simply shrugged his shoulders when they came to him one after another with projects of manœuvres with the ill-shod, half-clothed, and half-starved soldiers, whose numbers had in one month dwindled to one-half without a battle, and who would even, under the most favourable circumstances, have a longer distance to traverse before they reached the frontier than they had come already.

This desire on the part of the generals to distinguish themselves, to execute manœuvres, to attack, and to cut off the enemy, was particularly conspicuous whenever the Russian army did come into contact with the French.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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