- Dr. David G. Chandler on the battlefield of Borodino, viewed in August of 1970.
It was dubbed by no less an authority than Napoleon himself as "The most terrible of all my battles". The battle of Borodino took place on today's date, September 7 in 1812. And it was a truly bloody battle waged with artillery playing a particularly destructive role and without any of the dashing flanking maneuvers of past Napoleonic engagements. For this was the climactic brawl of the climactic campaign of Napoleon's career, a campaign which would spell his certain doom right up front where the rest of the Europe which he had tyrannized since 1800, could see it unmistakably.
Napoleon in Russia, Tsar Alexander I, and Kutuzov
Napoleon was by 1812 the master of Europe. But like all megalomaniacs he had to have it ALL. He sought to force the European continent into the "Continental System" by which he hoped to close all Europe to trade with the Brits. But the Russian Empire under her Tsar, Alexander I was a big fat hole in that plan. Thus he undertook to invade Russia in June of 1812. He thought a few weeks would bring a decisive enagement with the Russians, he would beat them, and that would be it. But he didn't reckon on the Tsar's or the Russian people's reaction to an invasion of "Holy Russia." Against this, they would turn very nasty indeed, and no simple battle would be enough to force them out. This
Borodino - The Big Showdown???
Barclay had several times withdrawn the Russian forces from Napoleon's grasp in search of more favorable ground on which to defeat the Great Napoleon on the battlefield. This had the quite incidental, but ultimately decisive effect of drawing Napoleon into the vast interior of Russia, wherein his supply lines were stretched dangerously far, and he was like a goose with his neck on the chopping block. And as far as I can tell, only Kutuzov realized this. But the great battle everyone had been demanding had to be fought to "save Russia's honor". So Kutuzov chose to fight it out on the field of Borodino, some 70 miles west of Russia's holy capital city of Moscow. It was hardly an ideal spot, but as Clausewitz said: "If someone wants to fight a battle without delay.. it is obvious he must take what he can get!" Hoping to inspire his men to greater effort Napoleon issued a decree: "Soldiers! Here is the battle you have so long wished for... let the remotest posterity cite your conduct on this day... let it be said of you 'that person was at the great battle fought under the walls of Moscow'!" But Georges de Chambray says "The minds of the soldiers were not disposed for enthusiasm; this proclamtion was coldy received."
Murder- ous Progress of the Battle
The map above ("Click" on it to enlarge) gives an account of the battles progress: it began with a murderous French artillery barrage on the south end off the line against the Fleches commanded by Prince Bagration, who was killed in the assault It was a very uninspired effort by Napoleon, a simple frontal assault. The fleches were taken, followed by the Russian positions further south. The French then assaulted the "Great" or "Raevski Redoubt" a heavily fortified position at the center of the Russian lines. Following an unsuccessful Russian counter-attack to relieve the pressure on that position, the French turned their full attention to the Great Redoubt, finally taking it by 4:00 p.m. that day.
The Destruction on the Battlefield , and the Escape of the Russian Army
"History of the Russian Expedition" - Georges de Chambray, Pairs, 1828. Transl. by unknown scholar, viewed at the Collections Deposit Library, University of Texas at Austin in 1992.
"Relations and Circumstances of the Russian Campaign of 1812" - Eugene Labaume, London, 1815.
Translator unknown; volume in Humanities Research Library, University of Texas at Austin.
- Alan Palmer, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1967