1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Borodino

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BORODINO, a village of Russia, 70 m. W. by S. of Moscow, on the Kolotscha, an affluent of the river Moskva, famous as the scene of a great battle between the army of Napoleon and the Russians under Kutusov on the 7th of September 1812. Though the battle is remembered chiefly for the terrible losses incurred by both sides, in many respects it is an excellent example of Napoleon’s tactical methods. After preliminary fighting on the 5th of September both sides prepared for battle on the 6th, Napoleon holding back in the hope of confirming the enemy in his resolution to fight a decisive battle. For the same reason the French right wing, which could have manœuvred the Russians from their position, was designedly weakened. The Russian right, bent back at an angle and strongly posted, was also neglected, for Napoleon intended to make a direct frontal attack. The enemy’s right centre near the village of Borodino was to be attacked by the viceroy of Italy, Eugene, who was afterwards to roll up the Russian line towards its centre, the so-called “great redoubt,” which was to be attacked directly from the front by Ney and Junot. Farther to the French right, Davout was to attack frontally a group of field works on which the Russian left centre was formed; and the extreme right of the French army was composed of the weak corps of Poniatowski. The cavalry corps were assigned to the various leaders named, and the Guard was held in reserve. The whole line was not more than about 2 m. long, giving an average of over 20 men per yard. When the Russians closed on their centre they were even more densely massed, and their reserves were subjected to an effective fire from the French field guns. At 6 a.m. on the 7th of September the French attack began. By 8 a.m. the Russian centre was driven in, and though a furious counter-attack enabled Prince Bagration’s troops to win back their original line, fresh French troops under Davout and Ney drove them back again. But the Russians, though they lost ground elsewhere, still clung to the great redoubt, and for a time the advance of the French was suspended by Napoleon’s order, owing to a cavalry attack by the Russians on Eugene’s extreme left. When this alarm was ended the advance was resumed. Napoleon had now collected a sufficient target for his guns. A terrific bombardment by the artillery was followed by the decisive charge of the battle, made by great masses of cavalry. The horsemen, followed by the infantry, charged at speed, broke the Russian line in two, and the French squadrons entered the gorge of the great redoubt just as Eugene’s infantry climbed up its faces. In a fearful mêlée the Russian garrison of the redoubt was almost annihilated. The defenders were now dislodged from their main line and the battle was practically at an end. Napoleon has been criticized for not using the Guard, which was intact, to complete the victory. There is, however, no evidence that any further expenditure of men would have had good results. Napoleon had imposed his will on the enemy so far that they ceded possession of Moscow without further resistance. That the defeat and losses of the Russian field army did not end the war was due to the national spirit of the Russians, not to military miscalculations of Napoleon. Had it not been for this spirit, Borodino would have been decisive of the war without the final blow of the Guard. As it was, the Russians lost about 42,000 men out of 121,000; Napoleon’s army (of which one-half consisted of the contingents of subject allies—Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Holland, &c.) 32,000 out of 130,000 (Berndt, Zahl im Kriege). On the side of the French 31 general officers were killed, wounded or taken, and amongst the killed were General Montbrun, who fell at the head of his cavalry corps, and Auguste Caulaincourt, who took Montbrun’s place and fell in the mêlée in the redoubt. The Russians lost 22 generals, amongst them Prince Bagration, who died of his wounds after the battle, and to whose memory a monument was erected on the battle-field by the tsar Nicholas I.