Part 23 out of 34
red-faced humorist, showing his teeth chaffing Pierre. "Awkward
baggage!" he added reproachfully to a cannon ball that struck a cannon
wheel and a man's leg.
"Now then, you foxes!" said another, laughing at some militiamen
who, stooping low, entered the battery to carry away the wounded man.
"So this gruel isn't to your taste? Oh, you crows! You're scared!"
they shouted at the militiamen who stood hesitating before the man
whose leg had been torn off.
"There, lads... oh, oh!" they mimicked the peasants, "they don't
like it at all!"
Pierre noticed that after every ball that hit the redoubt, and after
every loss, the liveliness increased more and more.
As the flames of the fire hidden within come more and more vividly
and rapidly from an approaching thundercloud, so, as if in
opposition to what was taking place, the lightning of hidden fire
growing more and more intense glowed in the faces of these men.
Pierre did not look out at the battlefield and was not concerned
to know what was happening there; he was entirely absorbed in watching
this fire which burned ever more brightly and which he felt was
flaming up in the same way in his own soul.
At ten o'clock the infantry that had been among the bushes in
front of the battery and along the Kamenka streamlet retreated. From
the battery they could be seen running back past it carrying their
wounded on their muskets. A general with his suite came to the
battery, and after speaking to the colonel gave Pierre an angry look
and went away again having ordered the infantry supports behind the
battery to lie down, so as to be less exposed to fire. After this from
amid the ranks of infantry to the right of the battery came the
sound of a drum and shouts of command, and from the battery one saw
how those ranks of infantry moved forward.
Pierre looked over the wall of the trench and was particularly
struck by a pale young officer who, letting his sword hang down, was
walking backwards and kept glancing uneasily around.
The ranks of the infantry disappeared amid the smoke but their
long-drawn shout and rapid musketry firing could still be heard. A few
minutes later crowds of wounded men and stretcher-bearers came back
from that direction. Projectiles began to fall still more frequently
in the battery. Several men were lying about who had not been removed.
Around the cannon the men moved still more briskly and busily. No
one any longer took notice of Pierre. Once or twice he was shouted
at for being in the way. The senior officer moved with big, rapid
strides from one gun to another with a frowning face. The young
officer, with his face still more flushed, commanded the men more
scrupulously than ever. The soldiers handed up the charges, turned,
loaded, and did their business with strained smartness. They gave
little jumps as they walked, as though they were on springs.
The stormcloud had come upon them, and in every face the fire
which Pierre had watched kindle burned up brightly. Pierre standing
beside the commanding officer. The young officer, his hand to his
shako, ran up to his superior.
"I have the honor to report, sir, that only eight rounds are left.
Are we to continue firing?" he asked.
"Grapeshot!" the senior shouted, without answering the question,
looking over the wall of the trench.
Suddenly something happened: the young officer gave a gasp and
bending double sat down on the ground like a bird shot on the wing.
Everything became strange, confused, and misty in Pierre's eyes.
One cannon ball after another whistled by and struck the
earthwork, a soldier, or a gun. Pierre, who had not noticed these
sounds before, now heard nothing else. On the right of the battery
soldiers shouting "Hurrah!" were running not forwards but backwards,
it seemed to Pierre.
A cannon ball struck the very end of the earth work by which he
was standing, crumbling down the earth; a black ball flashed before
his eyes and at the same instant plumped into something. Some
militiamen who were entering the battery ran back.
"All with grapeshot!" shouted the officer.
The sergeant ran up to the officer and in a frightened whisper
informed him (as a butler at dinner informs his master that there is
no more of some wine asked for) that there were no more charges.
"The scoundrels! What are they doing?" shouted the officer,
turning to Pierre.
The officer's face was red and perspiring and his eyes glittered
under his frowning brow.
"Run to the reserves and bring up the ammunition boxes!" he
yelled, angrily avoiding Pierre with his eyes and speaking to his men.
"I'll go," said Pierre.
The officer, without answering him, strode across to the opposite
"Don't fire.... Wait!" he shouted.
The man who had been ordered to go for ammunition stumbled against
"Eh, sir, this is no place for you," said he, and ran down the
Pierre ran after him, avoiding the spot where the young officer
One cannon ball, another, and a third flew over him, falling in
front, beside, and behind him. Pierre ran down the slope. "Where am
I going?" he suddenly asked himself when he was already near the green
ammunition wagons. He halted irresolutely, not knowing whether to
return or go on. Suddenly a terrible concussion threw him backwards to
the ground. At the same instant he was dazzled by a great flash of
flame, and immediately a deafening roar, crackling, and whistling made
his ears tingle.
When he came to himself he was sitting on the ground leaning on
his hands; the ammunition wagons he had been approaching no longer
existed, only charred green boards and rags littered the scorched
grass, and a horse, dangling fragments of its shaft behind it,
galloped past, while another horse lay, like Pierre, on the ground,
uttering prolonged and piercing cries.
Beside himself with terror Pierre jumped up and ran back to the
battery, as to the only refuge from the horrors that surrounded him.
On entering the earthwork he noticed that there were men doing
something there but that no shots were being fired from the battery.
He had no time to realize who these men were. He saw the senior
officer lying on the earth wall with his back turned as if he were
examining something down below and that one of the soldiers he had
noticed before was struggling forward shouting "Brothers!" and
trying to free himself from some men who were holding him by the
arm. He also saw something else that was strange.
But he had not time to realize that the colonel had been killed,
that the soldier shouting "Brothers!" was a prisoner, and that another
man had been bayoneted in the back before his eyes, for hardly had
he run into the redoubt before a thin, sallow-faced, perspiring man in
a blue uniform rushed on him sword in hand, shouting something.
Instinctively guarding against the shock- for they had been running
together at full speed before they saw one another- Pierre put out his
hands and seized the man (a French officer) by the shoulder with one
hand and by the throat with the other. The officer, dropping his
sword, seized Pierre by his collar.
For some seconds they gazed with frightened eyes at one another's
unfamiliar faces and both were perplexed at what they had done and
what they were to do next. "Am I taken prisoner or have I taken him
prisoner?" each was thinking. But the French officer was evidently
more inclined to think he had been taken prisoner because Pierre's
strong hand, impelled by instinctive fear, squeezed his throat ever
tighter and tighter. The Frenchman was about to say something, when
just above their heads, terrible and low, a cannon ball whistled,
and it seemed to Pierre that the French officer's head had been torn
off, so swiftly had he ducked it.
Pierre too bent his head and let his hands fall. Without further
thought as to who had taken whom prisoner, the Frenchman ran back to
the battery and Pierre ran down the slope stumbling over the dead
and wounded who, it seemed to him, caught at his feet. But before he
reached the foot of the knoll he was met by a dense crowd of Russian
soldiers who, stumbling, tripping up, and shouting, ran merrily and
wildly toward the battery. (This was the attack for which Ermolov
claimed the credit, declaring that only his courage and good luck made
such a feat possible: it was the attack in which he was said to have
thrown some St. George's Crosses he had in his pocket into the battery
for the first soldiers to take who got there.)
The French who had occupied the battery fled, and our troops
shouting "Hurrah!" pursued them so far beyond the battery that it
was difficult to call them back.
The prisoners were brought down from the battery and among them
was a wounded French general, whom the officers surrounded. Crowds
of wounded- some known to Pierre and some unknown- Russians and
French, with faces distorted by suffering, walked, crawled, and were
carried on stretchers from the battery. Pierre again went up onto
the knoll where he had spent over an hour, and of that family circle
which had received him as a member he did not find a single one. There
were many dead whom he did not know, but some he recognized. The young
officer still sat in the same way, bent double, in a pool of blood
at the edge of the earth wall. The red-faced man was still
twitching, but they did not carry him away.
Pierre ran down the slope once more.
"Now they will stop it, now they will be horrified at what they have
done!" he thought, aimlessly going toward a crowd of stretcher bearers
moving from the battlefield.
But behind the veil of smoke the sun was still high, and in front
and especially to the left, near Semenovsk, something seemed to be
seething in the smoke, and the roar of cannon and musketry did not
diminish, but even increased to desperation like a man who,
straining himself, shrieks with all his remaining strength.
The chief action of the battle of Borodino was fought within the
seven thousand feet between Borodino and Bagration's fleches. Beyond
that space there was, on the one side, a demonstration made by the
Russians with Uvarov's cavalry at midday, and on the other side,
beyond Utitsa, Poniatowski's collision with Tuchkov; but these two
were detached and feeble actions in comparison with what took place in
the center of the battlefield. On the field between Borodino and the
fleches, beside the wood, the chief action of the day took place on an
open space visible from both sides and was fought in the simplest
and most artless way.
The battle began on both sides with a cannonade from several hundred
Then when the whole field was covered with smoke, two divisions,
Campan's and Dessaix's, advanced from the French right, while
Murat's troops advanced on Borodino from their left.
From the Shevardino Redoubt where Napoleon was standing the
fleches were two thirds of a mile away, and it was more than a mile as
the crow flies to Borodino, so that Napoleon could not see what was
happening there, especially as the smoke mingling with the mist hid
the whole locality. The soldiers of Dessaix's division advancing
against the fleches could only be seen till they had entered the
hollow that lay between them and the fleches. As soon as they had
descended into that hollow, the smoke of the guns and musketry on
the fleches grew so dense that it covered the whole approach on that
side of it. Through the smoke glimpses could be caught of something
black- probably men- and at times the glint of bayonets. But whether
they were moving or stationary, whether they were French or Russian,
could not be discovered from the Shevardino Redoubt.
The sun had risen brightly and its slanting rays struck straight
into Napoleon's face as, shading his eyes with his hand, he looked
at the fleches. The smoke spread out before them, and at times it
looked as if the smoke were moving, at times as if the troops moved.
Sometimes shouts were heard through the firing, but it was
impossible to tell what was being done there.
Napoleon, standing on the knoll, looked through a field glass, and
in its small circlet saw smoke and men, sometimes his own and
sometimes Russians, but when he looked again with the naked eye, he
could not tell where what he had seen was.
He descended the knoll and began walking up and down before it.
Occasionally he stopped, listened to the firing, and gazed
intently at the battlefield.
But not only was it impossible to make out what was happening from
where he was standing down below, or from the knoll above on which
some of his generals had taken their stand, but even from the
fleches themselves- in which by this time there were now Russian and
now French soldiers, alternately or together, dead, wounded, alive,
frightened, or maddened- even at those fleches themselves it was
impossible to make out what was taking place. There for several
hours amid incessant cannon and musketry fire, now Russians were
seen alone, now Frenchmen alone, now infantry, and now cavalry: they
appeared, fired, fell, collided, not knowing what to do with one
another, screamed, and ran back again.
From the battlefield adjutants he had sent out, and orderlies from
his marshals, kept galloping up to Napoleon with reports of the
progress of the action, but all these reports were false, both because
it was impossible in the heat of battle to say what was happening at
any given moment and because many of the adjutants did not go to the
actual place of conflict but reported what they had heard from others;
and also because while an adjutant was riding more than a mile to
Napoleon circumstances changed and the news he brought was already
becoming false. Thus an adjutant galloped up from Murat with tidings
that Borodino had been occupied and the bridge over the Kolocha was in
the hands of the French. The adjutant asked whether Napoleon wished
the troops to cross it? Napoleon gave orders that the troops should
form up on the farther side and wait. But before that order was given-
almost as soon in fact as the adjutant had left Borodino- the bridge
had been retaken by the Russians and burned, in the very skirmish at
which Pierre had been present at the beginning of the battle.
An adjutant galloped up from the fleches with a pale and
frightened face and reported to Napoleon that their attack had been
repulsed, Campan wounded, and Davout killed; yet at the very time
the adjutant had been told that the French had been repulsed, the
fleches had in fact been recaptured by other French troops, and Davout
was alive and only slightly bruised. On the basis of these necessarily
untrustworthy reports Napoleon gave his orders, which had either
been executed before he gave them or could not be and were not
The marshals and generals, who were nearer to the field of battle
but, like Napoleon, did not take part in the actual fighting and
only occasionally went within musket range, made their own
arrangements without asking Napoleon and issued orders where and in
what direction to fire and where cavalry should gallop and infantry
should run. But even their orders, like Napoleon's, were seldom
carried out, and then but partially. For the most part things happened
contrary to their orders. Soldiers ordered to advance ran back on
meeting grapeshot; soldiers ordered to remain where they were,
suddenly, seeing Russians unexpectedly before them, sometimes rushed
back and sometimes forward, and the cavalry dashed without orders in
pursuit of the flying Russians. In this way two cavalry regiments
galloped through the Semenovsk hollow and as soon as they reached
the top of the incline turned round and galloped full speed back
again. The infantry moved in the same way, sometimes running to
quite other places than those they were ordered to go to. All orders
as to where and when to move the guns, when to send infantry to
shoot or horsemen to ride down the Russian infantry- all such orders
were given by the officers on the spot nearest to the units concerned,
without asking either Ney, Davout, or Murat, much less Napoleon.
They did not fear getting into trouble for not fulfilling orders or
for acting on their own initiative, for in battle what is at stake
is what is dearest to man- his own life- and it sometimes seems that
safety lies in running back, sometimes in running forward; and these
men who were right in the heat of the battle acted according to the
mood of the moment. In reality, however, all these movements forward
and backward did not improve or alter the position of the troops.
All their rushing and galloping at one another did little harm, the
harm of disablement and death was caused by the balls and bullets that
flew over the fields on which these men were floundering about. As
soon as they left the place where the balls and bullets were flying
about, their superiors, located in the background, re-formed them
and brought them under discipline and under the influence of that
discipline led them back to the zone of fire, where under the
influence of fear of death they lost their discipline and rushed about
according to the chance promptings of the throng.
Napoleon's generals- Davout, Ney, and Murat, who were near that
region of fire and sometimes even entered it- repeatedly led into it
huge masses of well-ordered troops. But contrary to what had always
happened in their former battles, instead of the news they expected of
the enemy's flight, these orderly masses returned thence as
disorganized and terrified mobs. The generals re-formed them, but
their numbers constantly decreased. In the middle of the day Murat
sent his adjutant to Napoleon to demand reinforcements.
Napoleon sat at the foot of the knoll, drinking punch, when
Murat's adjutant galloped up with an assurance that the Russians would
be routed if His Majesty would let him have another division.
"Reinforcements?" said Napoleon in a tone of stern surprise, looking
at the adjutant- a handsome lad with long black curls arranged like
Murat's own- as though he did not understand his words.
"Reinforcements!" thought Napoleon to himself. "How can they need
reinforcements when they already have half the army directed against a
weak, unentrenched Russian wing?"
"Tell the King of Naples," said he sternly, "that it is not noon
yet, and I don't yet see my chessboard clearly. Go!..."
The handsome boy adjutant with the long hair sighed deeply without
removing his hand from his hat and galloped back to where men were
Napoleon rose and having summoned Caulaincourt and Berthier began
talking to them about matters unconnected with the battle.
In the midst of this conversation, which was beginning to interest
Napoleon, Berthier's eyes turned to look at a general with a suite,
who was galloping toward the knoll on a lathering horse. It was
Belliard. Having dismounted he went up to the Emperor with rapid
strides and in a loud voice began boldly demonstrating the necessity
of sending reinforcements. He swore on his honor that the Russians
were lost if the Emperor would give another division.
Napoleon shrugged his shoulders and continued to pace up and down
without replying. Belliard began talking loudly and eagerly to the
generals of the suite around him.
"You are very fiery, Belliard," said Napoleon, when he again came up
to the general. "In the heat of a battle it is easy to make a mistake.
Go and have another look and then come back to me."
Before Belliard was out of sight, a messenger from another part of
the battlefield galloped up.
"Now then, what do you want?" asked Napoleon in the tone of a man
irritated at being continually disturbed.
"Sire, the prince..." began the adjutant.
"Asks for reinforcements?" said Napoleon with an angry gesture.
The adjutant bent his head affirmatively and began to report, but
the Emperor turned from him, took a couple of steps, stopped, came
back, and called Berthier.
"We must give reserves," he said, moving his arms slightly apart.
"Who do you think should be sent there?" he asked of Berthier (whom he
subsequently termed "that gosling I have made an eagle").
"Send Claparede's division, sire," replied Berthier, who knew all
the divisions regiments, and battalions by heart.
Napoleon nodded assent.
The adjutant galloped to Claparede's division and a few minutes
later the Young Guards stationed behind the knoll moved forward.
Napoleon gazed silently in that direction.
"No!" he suddenly said to Berthier. "I can't send Claparede. Send
Though there was no advantage in sending Friant's division instead
of Claparede's, and even in obvious inconvenience and delay in
stopping Claparede and sending Friant now, the order was carried out
exactly. Napoleon did not notice that in regard to his army he was
playing the part of a doctor who hinders by his medicines- a role he
so justly understood and condemned.
Friant's division disappeared as the others had done into the
smoke of the battlefield. From all sides adjutants continued to arrive
at a gallop and as if by agreement all said the same thing. They all
asked for reinforcements and all said that the Russians were holding
their positions and maintaining a hellish fire under which the
French army was melting away.
Napoleon sat on a campstool, wrapped in thought.
M. de Beausset, the man so fond of travel, having fasted since
morning, came up to the Emperor and ventured respectfully to suggest
lunch to His Majesty.
"I hope I may now congratulate Your Majesty on a victory?" said he.
Napoleon silently shook his head in negation. Assuming the
negation to refer only to the victory and not to the lunch, M. de
Beausset ventured with respectful jocularity to remark that there is
no reason for not having lunch when one can get it.
"Go away..." exclaimed Napoleon suddenly and morosely, and turned
A beatific smile of regret, repentance, and ecstasy beamed on M.
de Beausset's face and he glided away to the other generals.
Napoleon was experiencing a feeling of depression like that of an
ever-lucky gambler who, after recklessly flinging money about and
always winning, suddenly just when he has calculated all the chances
of the game, finds that the more he considers his play the more surely
His troops were the same, his generals the same, the same
preparations had been made, the same dispositions, and the same
proclamation courte et energique, he himself was still the same: he
knew that and knew that he was now even more experienced and
skillful than before. Even the enemy was the same as at Austerlitz and
Friedland- yet the terrible stroke of his arm had supernaturally
All the old methods that had been unfailingly crowned with
success: the concentration of batteries on one point, an attack by
reserves to break the enemy's line, and a cavalry attack by "the men
of iron," all these methods had already been employed, yet not only
was there no victory, but from all sides came the same news of
generals killed and wounded, of reinforcements needed, of the
impossibility of driving back the Russians, and of disorganization
among his own troops.
Formerly, after he had given two or three orders and uttered a few
phrases, marshals and adjutants had come galloping up with
congratulations and happy faces, announcing the trophies taken, the
corps of prisoners, bundles of enemy eagles and standards, cannon
and stores, and Murat had only begged leave to loose the cavalry to
gather in the baggage wagons. So it had been at Lodi, Marengo, Arcola,
Jena, Austerlitz, Wagram, and so on. But now something strange was
happening to his troops.
Despite news of the capture of the fleches, Napoleon saw that this
was not the same, not at all the same, as what had happened in his
former battles. He saw that what he was feeling was felt by all the
men about him experienced in the art of war. All their faces looked
dejected, and they all shunned one another's eyes- only a de
Beausset could fail to grasp the meaning of what was happening.
But Napoleon with his long experience of war well knew the meaning
of a battle not gained by the attacking side in eight hours, after all
efforts had been expended. He knew that it was a lost battle and
that the least accident might now- with the fight balanced on such a
strained center- destroy him and his army.
When he ran his mind over the whole of this strange Russian campaign
in which not one battle had been won, and in which not a flag, or
cannon, or army corps had been captured in two months, when he
looked at the concealed depression on the faces around him and heard
reports of the Russians still holding their ground- a terrible feeling
like a nightmare took possession of him, and all the unlucky accidents
that might destroy him occurred to his mind. The Russians might fall
on his left wing, might break through his center, he himself might
be killed by a stray cannon ball. All this was possible. In former
battles he had only considered the possibilities of success, but now
innumerable unlucky chances presented themselves, and he expected them
all. Yes, it was like a dream in which a man fancies that a ruffian is
coming to attack him, and raises his arm to strike that ruffian a
terrible blow which he knows should annihilate him, but then feels
that his arm drops powerless and limp like a rag, and the horror of
unavoidable destruction seizes him in his helplessness.
The news that the Russians were attacking the left flank of the
French army aroused that horror in Napoleon. He sat silently on a
campstool below the knoll, with head bowed and elbows on his knees.
Berthier approached and suggested that they should ride along the line
to ascertain the position of affairs.
"What? What do you say?" asked Napoleon. "Yes, tell them to bring me
He mounted and rode toward Semenovsk.
Amid the powder smoke, slowly dispersing over the whole space
through which Napoleon rode, horses and men were lying in pools of
blood, singly or in heaps. Neither Napoleon nor any of his generals
had ever before seen such horrors or so many slain in such a small
area. The roar of guns, that had not ceased for ten hours, wearied the
ear and gave a peculiar significance to the spectacle, as music does
to tableaux vivants. Napoleon rode up the high ground at Semenovsk,
and through the smoke saw ranks of men in uniforms of a color
unfamiliar to him. They were Russians.
The Russians stood in serried ranks behind Semenovsk village and its
knoll, and their guns boomed incessantly along their line and sent
forth clouds of smoke. It was no longer a battle: it was a
continuous slaughter which could be of no avail either to the French
or the Russians. Napoleon stopped his horse and again fell into the
reverie from which Berthier had aroused him. He could not stop what
was going on before him and around him and was supposed to be directed
by him and to depend on him, and from its lack of success this affair,
for the first time, seemed to him unnecessary and horrible.
One of the generals rode up to Napoleon and ventured to offer to
lead the Old Guard into action. Ney and Berthier, standing near
Napoleon, exchanged looks and smiled contemptuously at this
general's senseless offer.
Napoleon bowed his head and remained silent a long time.
"At eight hundred leagues from France, I will not have my Guard
destroyed!" he said, and turning his horse rode back to Shevardino.
On the rug-covered bench where Pierre had seen him in the morning
sat Kutuzov, his gray head hanging, his heavy body relaxed. He gave no
orders, but only assented to or dissented from what others suggested.
"Yes, yes, do that," he replied to various proposals. "Yes, yes: go,
dear boy, and have a look," he would say to one or another of those
about him; or, "No, don't, we'd better wait!" He listened to the
reports that were brought him and gave directions when his
subordinates demanded that of him; but when listening to the reports
it seemed as if he were not interested in the import of the words
spoken, but rather in something else- in the expression of face and
tone of voice of those who were reporting. By long years of military
experience he knew, and with the wisdom of age understood, that it
is impossible for one man to direct hundreds of thousands of others
struggling with death, and he knew that the result of a battle is
decided not by the orders of a commander in chief, nor the place where
the troops are stationed, nor by the number of cannon or of
slaughtered men, but by that intangible force called the spirit of the
army, and he watched this force and guided it in as far as that was in
Kutuzov's general expression was one of concentrated quiet
attention, and his face wore a strained look as if he found it
difficult to master the fatigue of his old and feeble body.
At eleven o'clock they brought him news that the fleches captured by
the French had been retaken, but that Prince Bagration was wounded.
Kutuzov groaned and swayed his head.
"Ride over to Prince Peter Ivanovich and find out about it exactly,"
he said to one of his adjutants, and then turned to the Duke of
Wurttemberg who was standing behind him.
"Will Your Highness please take command of the first army?"
Soon after the duke's departure- before he could possibly have
reached Semenovsk- his adjutant came back from him and told Kutuzov
that the duke asked for more troops.
Kutuzov made a grimace and sent an order to Dokhturov to take over
the command of the first army, and a request to the duke- whom he said
he could not spare at such an important moment- to return to him. When
they brought him news that Murat had been taken prisoner, and the
staff officers congratulated him, Kutuzov smiled.
"Wait a little, gentlemen," said he. "The battle is won, and there
is nothing extraordinary in the capture of Murat. Still, it is
better to wait before we rejoice."
But he sent an adjutant to take the news round the army.
When Scherbinin came galloping from the left flank with news that
the French had captured the fleches and the village of Semenovsk,
Kutuzov, guessing by the sounds of the battle and by Scherbinin's
looks that the news was bad, rose as if to stretch his legs and,
taking Scherbinin's arm, led him aside.
"Go, my dear fellow," he said to Ermolov, "and see whether something
can't be done."
Kutuzov was in Gorki, near the center of the Russian position. The
attack directed by Napoleon against our left flank had been several
times repulsed. In the center the French had not got beyond
Borodino, and on their left flank Uvarov's cavalry had put the
French to flight.
Toward three o'clock the French attacks ceased. On the faces of
all who came from the field of battle, and of those who stood around
him, Kutuzov noticed an expression of extreme tension. He was
satisfied with the day's success- a success exceeding his
expectations, but the old man's strength was failing him. Several
times his head dropped low as if it were falling and he dozed off.
Dinner was brought him.
Adjutant General Wolzogen, the man who when riding past Prince
Andrew had said, "the war should be extended widely," and whom
Bagration so detested, rode up while Kutuzov was at dinner. Wolzogen
had come from Barclay de Tolly to report on the progress of affairs on
the left flank. The sagacious Barclay de Tolly, seeing crowds of
wounded men running back and the disordered rear of the army,
weighed all the circumstances, concluded that the battle was lost, and
sent his favorite officer to the commander in chief with that news.
Kutuzov was chewing a piece of roast chicken with difficulty and
glanced at Wolzogen with eyes that brightened under their puckering
Wolzogen, nonchalantly stretching his legs, approached Kutuzov
with a half-contemptuous smile on his lips, scarcely touching the peak
of his cap.
He treated his Serene Highness with a somewhat affected
nonchalance intended to show that, as a highly trained military man,
he left it to Russians to make an idol of this useless old man, but
that he knew whom he was dealing with. "Der alte Herr" (as in their
own set the Germans called Kutuzov) "is making himself very
comfortable," thought Wolzogen, and looking severely at the dishes
in front of Kutuzov he began to report to "the old gentleman" the
position of affairs on the left flank as Barclay had ordered him to
and as he himself had seen and understood it.
"All the points of our position are in the enemy's hands and we
cannot dislodge them for lack of troops, the men are running away
and it is impossible to stop them," he reported.
Kutuzov ceased chewing and fixed an astonished gaze on Wolzogen,
as if not understand what was said to him. Wolzogen, noticing "the old
gentleman's" agitation, said with a smile:
"I have not considered it right to conceal from your Serene Highness
what I have seen. The troops are in complete disorder..."
"You have seen? You have seen?..." Kutuzov shouted frowning, and
rising quickly he went up to Wolzogen.
"How... how dare you!..." he shouted, choking and making a
threatening gesture with his trembling arms: "How dare you, sir, say
that to me? You know nothing about it. Tell General Barclay from me
that his information is incorrect and that the real course of the
battle is better known to me, the commander in chief, than to him."
Wolzogen was about to make a rejoinder, but Kutuzov interrupted him.
"The enemy has been repulsed on the left and defeated on the right
flank. If you have seen amiss, sir, do not allow yourself to say
what you don't know! Be so good as to ride to General Barclay and
inform him of my firm intention to attack the enemy tomorrow," said
All were silent, and the only sound audible was the heavy
breathing of the panting old general.
"They are repulsed everywhere, for which I thank God and our brave
army! The enemy is beaten, and tomorrow we shall drive him from the
sacred soil of Russia," said Kutuzov crossing himself, and he suddenly
sobbed as his eyes filled with tears.
Wolzogen, shrugging his shoulders and curling his lips, stepped
silently aside, marveling at "the old gentleman's" conceited
"Ah, here he is, my hero!" said Kutuzov to a portly, handsome,
dark-haired general who was just ascending the knoll.
This was Raevski, who had spent the whole day at the most
important part of the field of Borodino.
Raevski reported that the troops were firmly holding their ground
and that the French no longer ventured to attack.
After hearing him, Kutuzov said in French:
"Then you do not think, like some others, that we must retreat?"
"On the contrary, your Highness, in indecisive actions it is
always the most stubborn who remain victors," replied Raevski, "and in
"Kaysarov!" Kutuzov called to his adjutant. "Sit down and write
out the order of the day for tomorrow. And you," he continued,
addressing another, "ride along the line and that tomorrow we attack."
While Kutuzov was talking to Raevski and dictating the order of
the day, Wolzogen returned from Barclay and said that General
Barclay wished to have written confirmation of the order the field
marshal had given.
Kutuzov, without looking at Wolzogen, gave directions for the
order to be written out which the former commander in chief, to
avoid personal responsibility, very judiciously wished to receive.
And by means of that mysterious indefinable bond which maintains
throughout an army one and the same temper, known as "the spirit of
the army," and which constitutes the sinew of war, Kutuzov's words,
his order for a battle next day, immediately became known from one end
of the army to the other.
It was far from being the same words or the same order that
reached the farthest links of that chain. The tales passing from mouth
to mouth at different ends of the army did not even resemble what
Kutuzov had said, but the sense of his words spread everywhere because
what he said was not the outcome of cunning calculations, but of a
feeling that lay in the commander in chief's soul as in that of
And on learning that tomorrow they were to attack the enemy, and
hearing from the highest quarters a confirmation of what they wanted
to believe, the exhausted, wavering men felt comforted and inspirited.
Prince Andrew's regiment was among the reserves which till after one
o'clock were stationed inactive behind Semenovsk, under heavy
artillery fire. Toward two o'clock the regiment, having already lost
more than two hundred men, was moved forward into a trampled
oatfield in the gap between Semenovsk and the Knoll Battery, where
thousands of men perished that day and on which an intense,
concentrated fire from several hundred enemy guns was directed between
one and two o'clock.
Without moving from that spot or firing a single shot the regiment
here lost another third of its men. From in front and especially
from the right, in the unlifting smoke the guns boomed, and out of the
mysterious domain of smoke that overlay the whole space in front,
quick hissing cannon balls and slow whistling shells flew unceasingly.
At times, as if to allow them a respite, a quarter of an hour passed
during which the cannon balls and shells all flew overhead, but
sometimes several men were torn from the regiment in a minute and
the slain were continually being dragged away and the wounded
With each fresh blow less and less chance of life remained for those
not yet killed. The regiment stood in columns of battalion, three
hundred paces apart, but nevertheless the men were always in one and
the same mood. All alike were taciturn and morose. Talk was rarely
heard in the ranks, and it ceased altogether every time the thud of
a successful shot and the cry of "stretchers!" was heard. Most of
the time, by their officers' order, the men sat on the ground. One,
having taken off his shako, carefully loosened the gathers of its
lining and drew them tight again; another, rubbing some dry clay
between his palms, polished his bayonet; another fingered the strap
and pulled the buckle of his bandolier, while another smoothed and
refolded his leg bands and put his boots on again. Some built little
houses of the tufts in the plowed ground, or plaited baskets from
the straw in the cornfield. All seemed fully absorbed in these
pursuits. When men were killed or wounded, when rows of stretchers
went past, when some troops retreated, and when great masses of the
enemy came into view through the smoke, no one paid any attention to
these things. But when our artillery or cavalry advanced or some of
our infantry were seen to move forward, words of approval were heard
on all sides. But the liveliest attention was attracted by occurrences
quite apart from, and unconnected with, the battle. It was as if the
minds of these morally exhausted men found relief in everyday,
commonplace occurrences. A battery of artillery was passing in front
of the regiment. The horse of an ammunition cart put its leg over a
trace. "Hey, look at the trace horse!... Get her leg out! She'll
fall.... Ah, they don't see it!" came identical shouts from the
ranks all along the regiment. Another time, general attention was
attracted by a small brown dog, coming heaven knows whence, which
trotted in a preoccupied manner in front of the ranks with tail
stiffly erect till suddenly a shell fell close by, when it yelped,
tucked its tail between its legs, and darted aside. Yells and
shrieks of laughter rose from the whole regiment. But such
distractions lasted only a moment, and for eight hours the men had
been inactive, without food, in constant fear of death, and their pale
and gloomy faces grew ever paler and gloomier.
Prince Andrew, pale and gloomy like everyone in the regiment,
paced up and down from the border of one patch to another, at the edge
of the meadow beside an oatfield, with head bowed and arms behind
his back. There was nothing for him to do and no orders to be given.
Everything went on of itself. The killed were dragged from the
front, the wounded carried away, and the ranks closed up. If any
soldiers ran to the rear they returned immediately and hastily. At
first Prince Andrew, considering it his duty to rouse the courage of
the men and to set them an example, walked about among the ranks,
but he soon became convinced that this was unnecessary and that
there was nothing he could teach them. All the powers of his soul,
as of every soldier there, were unconsciously bent on avoiding the
contemplation of the horrors of their situation. He walked along the
meadow, dragging his feet, rustling the grass, and gazing at the
dust that covered his boots; now he took big strides trying to keep to
the footprints left on the meadow by the mowers, then he counted his
steps, calculating how often he must walk from one strip to another to
walk a mile, then he stripped the flowers from the wormwood that
grew along a boundary rut, rubbed them in his palms, and smelled their
pungent, sweetly bitter scent. Nothing remained of the previous
day's thoughts. He thought of nothing. He listened with weary ears
to the ever-recurring sounds, distinguishing the whistle of flying
projectiles from the booming of the reports, glanced at the tiresomely
familiar faces of the men of the first battalion, and waited. "Here it
comes... this one is coming our way again!" he thought, listening to
an approaching whistle in the hidden region of smoke. "One, another!
Again! It has hit...." He stopped and looked at the ranks. "No, it has
gone over. But this one has hit!" And again he started trying to reach
the boundary strip in sixteen paces. A whizz and a thud! Five paces
from him, a cannon ball tore up the dry earth and disappeared. A chill
ran down his back. Again he glanced at the ranks. Probably many had
been hit- a large crowd had gathered near the second battalion.
"Adjutant!" he shouted. "Order them not to crowd together."
The adjutant, having obeyed this instruction, approached Prince
Andrew. From the other side a battalion commander rode up.
"Look out!" came a frightened cry from a soldier and, like a bird
whirring in rapid flight and alighting on the ground, a shell
dropped with little noise within two steps of Prince Andrew and
close to the battalion commander's horse. The horse first,
regardless of whether it was right or wrong to show fear, snorted,
reared almost throwing the major, and galloped aside. The horse's
terror infected the men.
"Lie down!" cried the adjutant, throwing himself flat on the ground.
Prince Andrew hesitated. The smoking shell spun like a top between
him and the prostrate adjutant, near a wormwood plant between the
field and the meadow.
"Can this be death?" thought Prince Andrew, looking with a quite
new, envious glance at the grass, the wormwood, and the streamlet of
smoke that curled up from the rotating black ball. "I cannot, I do not
wish to die. I love life- I love this grass, this earth, this air...."
He thought this, and at the same time remembered that people were
looking at him.
"It's shameful, sir!" he said to the adjutant. "What..."
He did not finish speaking. At one and the same moment came the
sound of an explosion, a whistle of splinters as from a breaking
window frame, a suffocating smell of powder, and Prince Andrew started
to one side, raising his arm, and fell on his chest. Several
officers ran up to him. From the right side of his abdomen, blood
was welling out making a large stain on the grass.
The militiamen with stretchers who were called up stood behind the
officers. Prince Andrew lay on his chest with his face in the grass,
breathing heavily and noisily.
"What are you waiting for? Come along!"
The peasants went up and took him by his shoulders and legs, but
he moaned piteously and, exchanging looks, they set him down again.
"Pick him up, lift him, it's all the same!" cried someone.
They again took him by the shoulders and laid him on the stretcher.
"Ah, God! My God! What is it? The stomach? That means death! My
God!"- voices among the officers were heard saying.
"It flew a hair's breadth past my ear," said the adjutant.
The peasants, adjusting the stretcher to their shoulders, started
hurriedly along the path they had trodden down, to the dressing
"Keep in step! Ah... those peasants!" shouted an officer, seizing by
their shoulders and checking the peasants, who were walking unevenly
and jolting the stretcher.
"Get into step, Fedor... I say, Fedor!" said the foremost peasant.
"Now that's right!" said the one behind joyfully, when he had got
"Your excellency! Eh, Prince!" said the trembling voice of Timokhin,
who had run up and was looking down on the stretcher.
Prince Andrew opened his eyes and looked up at the speaker from
the stretcher into which his head had sunk deep and again his
The militiamen carried Prince Andrew to dressing station by the
wood, where wagons were stationed. The dressing station consisted of
three tents with flaps turned back, pitched at the edge of a birch
wood. In the wood, wagons and horses were standing. The horses were
eating oats from their movable troughs and sparrows flew down and
pecked the grains that fell. Some crows, scenting blood, flew among
the birch trees cawing impatiently. Around the tents, over more than
five acres, bloodstained men in various garbs stood, sat, or lay.
Around the wounded stood crowds of soldier stretcher-bearers with
dismal and attentive faces, whom the officers keeping order tried in
vain to drive from the spot. Disregarding the officers' orders, the
soldiers stood leaning against their stretchers and gazing intently,
as if trying to comprehend the difficult problem of what was taking
place before them. From the tents came now loud angry cries and now
plaintive groans. Occasionally dressers ran out to fetch water, or
to point out those who were to be brought in next. The wounded men
awaiting their turn outside the tents groaned, sighed, wept, screamed,
swore, or asked for vodka. Some were delirious. Prince Andrew's
bearers, stepping over the wounded who had not yet been bandaged, took
him, as a regimental commander, close up to one of the tents and there
stopped, awaiting instructions. Prince Andrew opened his eyes and
for a long time could not make out what was going on around him. He
remembered the meadow, the wormwood, the field, the whirling black
ball, and his sudden rush of passionate love of life. Two steps from
him, leaning against a branch and talking loudly and attracting
general attention, stood a tall, handsome, black-haired
noncommissioned officer with a bandaged head. He had been wounded in
the head and leg by bullets. Around him, eagerly listening to his
talk, a crowd of wounded and stretcher-bearers was gathered.
"We kicked him out from there so that he chucked everything, we
grabbed the King himself!" cried he, looking around him with eyes that
glittered with fever. "If only reserves had come up just then, lads,
there wouldn't have been nothing left of him! I tell you surely..."
Like all the others near the speaker, Prince Andrew looked at him
with shining eyes and experienced a sense of comfort. "But isn't it
all the same now?" thought he. "And what will be there, and what has
there been here? Why was I so reluctant to part with life? There was
something in this life I did not and do not understand."
One of the doctors came out of the tent in a bloodstained apron,
holding a cigar between the thumb and little finger of one of his
small bloodstained hands, so as not to smear it. He raised his head
and looked about him, but above the level of the wounded men. He
evidently wanted a little respite. After turning his head from right
to left for some time, he sighed and looked down.
"All right, immediately," he replied to a dresser who pointed Prince
Andrew out to him, and he told them to carry him into the tent.
Murmurs arose among the wounded who were waiting.
"It seems that even in the next world only the gentry are to have
a chance!" remarked one.
Prince Andrew was carried in and laid on a table that had only
just been cleared and which a dresser was washing down. Prince
Andrew could not make out distinctly what was in that tent. The
pitiful groans from all sides and the torturing pain in his thigh,
stomach, and back distracted him. All he saw about him merged into a
general impression of naked, bleeding human bodies that seemed to fill
the whole of the low tent, as a few weeks previously, on that hot
August day, such bodies had filled the dirty pond beside the
Smolensk road. Yes, it was the same flesh, the same chair a canon, the
sight of which had even then filled him with horror, as by a
There were three operating tables in the tent. Two were occupied,
and on the third they placed Prince Andrew. For a little while he
was left alone and involuntarily witnessed what was taking place on
the other two tables. On the nearest one sat a Tartar, probably a
Cossack, judging by the uniform thrown down beside him. Four
soldiers were holding him, and a spectacled doctor was cutting into
his muscular brown back.
"Ooh, ooh, ooh!" grunted the Tartar, and suddenly lifting up his
swarthy snub-nosed face with its high cheekbones, and baring his white
teeth, he began to wriggle and twitch his body and utter piercing,
ringing, and prolonged yells. On the other table, round which many
people were crowding, a tall well-fed man lay on his back with his
head thrown back. His curly hair, its color, and the shape of his head
seemed strangely familiar to Prince Andrew. Several dressers were
pressing on his chest to hold him down. One large, white, plump leg
twitched rapidly all the time with a feverish tremor. The man was
sobbing and choking convulsively. Two doctors- one of whom was pale
and trembling- were silently doing something to this man's other, gory
leg. When he had finished with the Tartar, whom they covered with an
overcoat, the spectacled doctor came up to Prince Andrew, wiping his
He glanced at Prince Andrew's face and quickly turned away.
"Undress him! What are you waiting for?" he cried angrily to the
His very first, remotest recollections of childhood came back to
Prince Andrew's mind when the dresser with sleeves rolled up began
hastily to undo the buttons of his clothes and undressed him. The
doctor bent down over the wound, felt it, and sighed deeply. Then he
made a sign to someone, and the torturing pain in his abdomen caused
Prince Andrew to lose consciousness. When he came to himself the
splintered portions of his thighbone had been extracted, the torn
flesh cut away, and the wound bandaged. Water was being sprinkled on
his face. As soon as Prince Andrew opened his eyes, the doctor bent
over, kissed him silently on the lips, and hurried away.
After the sufferings he had been enduring, Prince Andrew enjoyed a
blissful feeling such as he had not experienced for a long time. All
the best and happiest moments of his life- especially his earliest
childhood, when he used to be undressed and put to bed, and when
leaning over him his nurse sang him to sleep and he, burying his
head in the pillow, felt happy in the mere consciousness of life-
returned to his memory, not merely as something past but as
The doctors were busily engaged with the wounded man the shape of
whose head seemed familiar to Prince Andrew: they were lifting him
up and trying to quiet him.
"Show it to me.... Oh, ooh... Oh! Oh, ooh!" his frightened moans
could be heard, subdued by suffering and broken by sobs.
Hearing those moans Prince Andrew wanted to weep.
Whether because he was dying without glory, or because he was sorry to
part with life, or because of those memories of a childhood that could
not return, or because he was suffering and others were suffering
and that man near him was groaning so piteously- he felt like
weeping childlike, kindly, and almost happy tears.
The wounded man was shown his amputated leg stained with clotted
blood and with the boot still on.
"Oh! Oh, ooh!" he sobbed, like a woman.
The doctor who had been standing beside him, preventing Prince
Andrew from seeing his face, moved away.
"My God! What is this? Why is he here?" said Prince Andrew to
In the miserable, sobbing, enfeebled man whose leg had just been
amputated, he recognized Anatole Kuragin. Men were supporting him in
their arms and offering him a glass of water, but his trembling,
swollen lips could not grasp its rim. Anatole was sobbing painfully.
"Yes, it is he! Yes, that man is somehow closely and painfully
connected with me," thought Prince Andrew, not yet clearly grasping
what he saw before him. "What is the connection of that man with my
childhood and life?" he asked himself without finding an answer. And
suddenly a new unexpected memory from that realm of pure and loving
childhood presented itself to him. He remembered Natasha as he had
seen her for the first time at the ball in 1810, with her slender neck
and arms and with a frightened happy face ready for rapture, and
love and tenderness for her, stronger and more vivid than ever,
awoke in his soul. He now remembered the connection that existed
between himself and this man who was dimly gazing at him through tears
that filled his swollen eyes. He remembered everything, and ecstatic
pity and love for that man overflowed his happy heart.
Prince Andrew could no longer restrain himself and wept tender
loving tears for his fellow men, for himself, and for his own and
"Compassion, love of our brothers, for those who love us and for
those who hate us, love of our enemies; yes, that love which God
preached on earth and which Princess Mary taught me and I did not
understand- that is what made me sorry to part with life, that is what
remained for me had I lived. But now it is too late. I know it!"
The terrible spectacle of the battlefield covered with dead and
wounded, together with the heaviness of his head and the news that
some twenty generals he knew personally had been killed or wounded,
and the consciousness of the impotence of his once mighty arm,
produced an unexpected impression on Napoleon who usually liked to
look at the killed and wounded, thereby, he considered, testing his
strength of mind. This day the horrible appearance of the
battlefield overcame that strength of mind which he thought
constituted his merit and his greatness. He rode hurriedly from the
battlefield and returned to the Shevardino knoll, where he sat on
his campstool, his sallow face swollen and heavy, his eyes dim, his
nose red, and his voice hoarse, involuntarily listening, with downcast
eyes, to the sounds of firing. With painful dejection he awaited the
end of this action, in which he regarded himself as a participant
and which he was unable to arrest. A personal, human feeling for a
brief moment got the better of the artificial phantasm of life he
had served so long. He felt in his own person the sufferings and death
he had witnessed on the battlefield. The heaviness of his head and
chest reminded him of the possibility of suffering and death for
himself. At that moment he did not desire Moscow, or victory, or glory
(what need had he for any more glory?). The one thing he wished for
was rest, tranquillity, and freedom. But when he had been on the
Semenovsk heights the artillery commander had proposed to him to bring
several batteries of artillery up to those heights to strengthen the
fire on the Russian troops crowded in front of Knyazkovo. Napoleon had
assented and had given orders that news should be brought to him of
the effect those batteries produced.
An adjutant came now to inform him that the fire of two hundred guns
had been concentrated on the Russians, as he had ordered, but that
they still held their ground.
"Our fire is mowing them down by rows, but still they hold on," said
"They want more!..." said Napoleon in a hoarse voice.
"Sire?" asked the adjutant who had not heard the remark.
"They want more!" croaked Napoleon frowning. "Let them have it!"
Even before he gave that order the thing he did not desire, and
for which he gave the order only because he thought it was expected of
him, was being done. And he fell back into that artificial realm of
imaginary greatness, and again- as a horse walking a treadmill
thinks it is doing something for itself- he submissively fulfilled the
cruel, sad, gloomy, and inhuman role predestined for him.
And not for that day and hour alone were the mind and conscience
darkened of this man on whom the responsibility for what was happening
lay more than on all the others who took part in it. Never to the
end of his life could he understand goodness, beauty, or truth, or the
significance of his actions which were too contrary to goodness and
truth, too remote from everything human, for him ever to be able to
grasp their meaning. He could not disavow his actions, belauded as
they were by half the world, and so he had to repudiate truth,
goodness, and all humanity.
Not only on that day, as he rode over the battlefield strewn with
men killed and maimed (by his will as he believed), did he reckon as
he looked at them how many Russians there were for each Frenchman and,
deceiving himself, find reason for rejoicing in the calculation that
there were five Russians for every Frenchman. Not on that day alone
did he write in a letter to Paris that "the battle field was
superb," because fifty thousand corpses lay there, but even on the
island of St. Helena in the peaceful solitude where he said he
intended to devote his leisure to an account of the great deeds he had
done, he wrote:
The Russian war should have been the most popular war of modern
times: it was a war of good sense, for real interests, for the
tranquillity and security of all; it was purely pacific and
It was a war for a great cause, the end of uncertainties and the
beginning of security. A new horizon and new labors were opening
out, full of well-being and prosperity for all. The European system
was already founded; all that remained was to organize it.
Satisfied on these great points and with tranquility everywhere, I
too should have had my Congress and my Holy Alliance. Those ideas were
stolen from me. In that reunion of great sovereigns we should have
discussed our interests like one family, and have rendered account
to the peoples as clerk to master.
Europe would in this way soon have been, in fact, but one people,
and anyone who traveled anywhere would have found himself always in
the common fatherland. I should have demanded the freedom of all
navigable rivers for everybody, that the seas should be common to all,
and that the great standing armies should be reduced henceforth to
mere guards for the sovereigns.
On returning to France, to the bosom of the great, strong,
magnificent, peaceful, and glorious fatherland, I should have
proclaimed her frontiers immutable; all future wars purely
defensive, all aggrandizement antinational. I should have associated
my son in the Empire; my dictatorship would have been finished, and
his constitutional reign would have begun.
Paris would have been the capital of the world, and the French the
envy of the nations!
My leisure then, and my old age, would have been devoted, in company
with the Empress and during the royal apprenticeship of my son, to
leisurely visiting, with our own horses and like a true country
couple, every corner of the Empire, receiving complaints, redressing
wrongs, and scattering public buildings and benefactions on all
sides and everywhere.
Napoleon, predestined by Providence for the gloomy role of
executioner of the peoples, assured himself that the aim of his
actions had been the peoples' welfare and that he could control the
fate of millions and by the employment of power confer benefactions.
"Of four hundred thousand who crossed the Vistula," he wrote further
of the Russian war, "half were Austrians, Prussians, Saxons, Poles,
Bavarians, Wurttembergers, Mecklenburgers, Spaniards, Italians, and
Neapolitans. The Imperial army, strictly speaking, was one third
composed of Dutch, Belgians, men from the borders of the Rhine,
Piedmontese, Swiss, Genevese, Tuscans, Romans, inhabitants of the
Thirty-second Military Division, of Bremen, of Hamburg, and so on:
it included scarcely a hundred and forty thousand who spoke French.
The Russian expedition actually cost France less than fifty thousand
men; the Russian army in its retreat from Vilna to Moscow lost in
the various battles four times more men than the French army; the
burning of Moscow cost the lives of a hundred thousand Russians who
died of cold and want in the woods; finally, in its march from
Moscow to the Oder the Russian army also suffered from the severity of
the season; so that by the the time it reached Vilna it numbered
only fifty thousand, and at Kalisch less than eighteen thousand."
He imagined that the war with Russia came about by his will, and the
horrors that occurred did not stagger his soul. He boldly took the
whole responsibility for what happened, and his darkened mind found
justification in the belief that among the hundreds of thousands who
perished there were fewer Frenchmen than Hessians and Bavarians.
Several tens of thousands of the slain lay in diverse postures and
various uniforms on the fields and meadows belonging to the Davydov
family and to the crown serfs- those fields and meadows where for
hundreds of years the peasants of Borodino, Gorki, Shevardino, and
Semenovsk had reaped their harvests and pastured their cattle. At
the dressing stations the grass and earth were soaked with blood for a
space of some three acres around. Crowds of men of various arms,
wounded and unwounded, with frightened faces, dragged themselves
back to Mozhaysk from the one army and back to Valuevo from the other.
Other crowds, exhausted and hungry, went forward led by their
officers. Others held their ground and continued to fire.
Over the whole field, previously so gaily beautiful with the glitter
of bayonets and cloudlets of smoke in the morning sun, there now
spread a mist of damp and smoke and a strange acid smell of
saltpeter and blood. Clouds gathered and drops of rain began to fall
on the dead and wounded, on the frightened, exhausted, and
hesitating men, as if to say: "Enough, men! Enough! Cease... bethink
yourselves! What are you doing?"
To the men of both sides alike, worn out by want of food and rest,
it began equally to appear doubtful whether they should continue to
slaughter one another; all the faces expressed hesitation, and the
question arose in every soul: "For what, for whom, must I kill and
be killed?... You may go and kill whom you please, but I don't want to
do so anymore!" By evening this thought had ripened in every soul.
At any moment these men might have been seized with horror at what
they were doing and might have thrown up everything and run away
But though toward the end of the battle the men felt all the
horror of what they were doing, though they would have been glad to
leave off, some incomprehensible, mysterious power continued to
control them, and they still brought up the charges, loaded, aimed,
and applied the match, though only one artilleryman survived out of
every three, and though they stumbled and panted with fatigue,
perspiring and stained with blood and powder. The cannon balls flew
just as swiftly and cruelly from both sides, crushing human bodies,
and that terrible work which was not done by the will of a man but
at the will of Him who governs men and worlds continued.
Anyone looking at the disorganized rear of the Russian army would
have said that, if only the French made one more slight effort, it
would disappear; and anyone looking at the rear of the French army
would have said that the Russians need only make one more slight
effort and the French would be destroyed. But neither the French nor
the Russians made that effort, and the flame of battle burned slowly
The Russians did not make that effort because they were not
attacking the French. At the beginning of the battle they stood
blocking the way to Moscow and they still did so at the end of the
battle as at the beginning. But even had the aim of the Russians
been to drive the French from their positions, they could not have
made this last effort, for all the Russian troops had been broken
up, there was no part of the Russian army that had not suffered in the
battle, and though still holding their positions they had lost ONE
HALF of their army.
The French, with the memory of all their former victories during
fifteen years, with the assurance of Napoleon's invincibility, with
the consciousness that they had captured part of the battlefield and
had lost only a quarter of their men and still had their Guards
intact, twenty thousand strong, might easily have made that effort.
The French had attacked the Russian army in order to drive it from its
position ought to have made that effort, for as long as the Russians
continued to block the road to Moscow as before, the aim of the French
had not been attained and all their efforts and losses were in vain.
But the French did not make that effort. Some historians say that
Napoleon need only have used his Old Guards, who were intact, and
the battle would have been won. To speak of what would have happened
had Napoleon sent his Guards is like talking of what would happen if
autumn became spring. It could not be. Napoleon did not give his
Guards, not because he did not want to, but because it could not be
done. All the generals, officers. and soldiers of the French army knew
it could not be done, because the flagging spirit of the troops
would not permit it.
It was not Napoleon alone who had experienced that nightmare feeling
of the mighty arm being stricken powerless, but all the generals and
soldiers of his army whether they had taken part in the battle or not,
after all their experience of previous battles- when after one tenth
of such efforts the enemy had fled- experienced a similar feeling of
terror before an enemy who, after losing HALF his men, stood as
threateningly at the end as at the beginning of the battle. The
moral force of the attacking French army was exhausted. Not that
sort of victory which is defined by the capture of pieces of
material fastened to sticks, called standards, and of the ground on
which the troops had stood and were standing, but a moral victory that
convinces the enemy of the moral superiority of his opponent and of
his own impotence was gained by the Russians at Borodino. The French
invaders, like an infuriated animal that has in its onslaught received
a mortal wound, felt that they were perishing, but could not stop, any
more than the Russian army, weaker by one half, could help swerving.
By impetus gained, the French army was still able to roll forward to
Moscow, but there, without further effort on the part of the Russians,
it had to perish, bleeding from the mortal wound it had received at
Borodino. The direct consequence of the battle of Borodino was
Napoleon's senseless flight from Moscow, his retreat along the old
Smolensk road, the destruction of the invading army of five hundred
thousand men, and the downfall of Napoleonic France, on which at
Borodino for the first time the hand of an opponent of stronger spirit
had been laid.
BOOK ELEVEN: 1812
Absolute continuity of motion is not comprehensible to the human
mind. Laws of motion of any kind become comprehensible to man only
when he examines arbitrarily selected elements of that motion; but
at the same time, a large proportion of human error comes from the
arbitrary division of continuous motion into discontinuous elements.
There is a well known, so-called sophism of the ancients consisting in
this, that Achilles could never catch up with a tortoise he was
following, in spite of the fact that he traveled ten times as fast
as the tortoise. By the time Achilles has covered the distance that
separated him from the tortoise, the tortoise has covered one tenth of
that distance ahead of him: when Achilles has covered that tenth,
the tortoise has covered another one hundredth, and so on forever.
This problem seemed to the ancients insoluble. The absurd answer (that
Achilles could never overtake the tortoise) resulted from this: that
motion was arbitrarily divided into discontinuous elements, whereas
the motion both of Achilles and of the tortoise was continuous.
By adopting smaller and smaller elements of motion we only
approach a solution of the problem, but never reach it. Only when we
have admitted the conception of the infinitely small, and the
resulting geometrical progression with a common ratio of one tenth,
and have found the sum of this progression to infinity, do we reach
a solution of the problem.
A modern branch of mathematics having achieved the art of dealing
with the infinitely small can now yield solutions in other more
complex problems of motion which used to appear insoluble.
This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when
dealing with problems of motion admits the conception of the
infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion
(absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error
which the human mind cannot avoid when it deals with separate elements
of motion instead of examining continuous motion.
In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing
happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable
arbitrary human wills, is continuous.
To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of
history. But to arrive at these laws, resulting from the sum of all
those human wills, man's mind postulates arbitrary and disconnected
units. The first method of history is to take an arbitrarily
selected series of continuous events and examine it apart from others,
though there is and can be no beginning to any event, for one event
always flows uninterruptedly from another.
The second method is to consider the actions of some one man- a king
or a commander- as equivalent to the sum of many individual wills;
whereas the sum of individual wills is never expressed by the activity
of a single historic personage.
Historical science in its endeavor to draw nearer to truth
continually takes smaller and smaller units for examination. But
however small the units it takes, we feel that to take any unit
disconnected from others, or to assume a beginning of any
phenomenon, or to say that the will of many men is expressed by the
actions of any one historic personage, is in itself false.
It needs no critical exertion to reduce utterly to dust any
deductions drawn from history. It is merely necessary to select some
larger or smaller unit as the subject of observation- as criticism has
every right to do, seeing that whatever unit history observes must
always be arbitrarily selected.
Only by taking infinitesimally small units for observation (the
differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of men)
and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum
of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.
The first fifteen years of the nineteenth century in Europe
present an extraordinary movement of millions of people. Men leave
their customary pursuits, hasten from one side of Europe to the other,
plunder and slaughter one another, triumph and are plunged in despair,
and for some years the whole course of life is altered and presents an
intensive movement which first increases and then slackens. What was
the cause of this movement, by what laws was it governed? asks the
mind of man.
The historians, replying to this question, lay before us the sayings
and doings of a few dozen men in a building in the city of Paris,
calling these sayings and doings "the Revolution"; then they give a
detailed biography of Napoleon and of certain people favorable or
hostile to him; tell of the influence some of these people had on
others, and say: that is why this movement took place and those are
But the mind of man not only refuses to believe this explanation,
but plainly says that this method of explanation is fallacious,
because in it a weaker phenomenon is taken as the cause of a stronger.
The sum of human wills produced the Revolution and Napoleon, and
only the sum of those wills first tolerated and then destroyed them.
"But every time there have been conquests there have been
conquerors; every time there has been a revolution in any state
there have been great men," says history. And, indeed, human reason
replies: every time conquerors appear there have been wars, but this
does not prove that the conquerors caused the wars and that it is
possible to find the laws of a war in the personal activity of a
single man. Whenever I look at my watch and its hands point to ten,
I hear the bells of the neighboring church; but because the bells
begin to ring when the hands of the clock reach ten, I have no right
to assume that the movement of the bells is caused by the position
of the hands of the watch.
Whenever I see the movement of a locomotive I hear the whistle and
see the valves opening and wheels turning; but I have no right to
conclude that the whistling and the turning of wheels are the cause of
the movement of the engine.
The peasants say that a cold wind blows in late spring because the
oaks are budding, and really every spring cold winds do blow when
the oak is budding. But though I do not know what causes the cold
winds to blow when the oak buds unfold, I cannot agree with the
peasants that the unfolding of the oak buds is the cause of the cold
wind, for the force of the wind is beyond the influence of the buds. I
see only a coincidence of occurrences such as happens with all the
phenomena of life, and I see that however much and however carefully I
observe the hands of the watch, and the valves and wheels of the
engine, and the oak, I shall not discover the cause of the bells
ringing, the engine moving, or of the winds of spring. To that I
must entirely change my point of view and study the laws of the
movement of steam, of the bells, and of the wind. History must do
the same. And attempts in this direction have already been made.
To study the laws of history we must completely change the subject
of our observation, must leave aside kings, ministers, and generals,
and the common, infinitesimally small elements by which the masses are
moved. No one can say in how far it is possible for man to advance
in this way toward an understanding of the laws of history; but it
is evident that only along that path does the possibility of
discovering the laws of history lie, and that as yet not a millionth
part as much mental effort has been applied in this direction by
historians as has been devoted to describing the actions of various
kings, commanders, and ministers and propounding the historians' own
reflections concerning these actions.
The forces of a dozen European nations burst into Russia. The
Russian army and people avoided a collision till Smolensk was reached,
and again from Smolensk to Borodino. The French army pushed on to
Moscow, its goal, its impetus ever increasing as it neared its aim,
just as the velocity of a falling body increases as it approaches
the earth. Behind it were seven hundred miles of hunger-stricken,
hostile country; ahead were a few dozen miles separating it from its
goal. Every soldier in Napoleon's army felt this and the invasion
moved on by its own momentum.
The more the Russian army retreated the more fiercely a spirit of
hatred of the enemy flared up, and while it retreated the army
increased and consolidated. At Borodino a collision took place.
Neither army was broken up, but the Russian army retreated immediately
after the collision as inevitably as a ball recoils after colliding
with another having a greater momentum, and with equal inevitability
the ball of invasion that had advanced with such momentum rolled on
for some distance, though the collision had deprived it of all its
The Russians retreated eighty miles- to beyond Moscow- and the
French reached Moscow and there came to a standstill. For five weeks
after that there was not a single battle. The French did not move.
As a bleeding, mortally wounded animal licks its wounds, they remained
inert in Moscow for five weeks, and then suddenly, with no fresh
reason, fled back: they made a dash for the Kaluga road, and (after
a victory- for at Malo-Yaroslavets the field of conflict again
remained theirs) without undertaking a single serious battle, they
fled still more rapidly back to Smolensk, beyond Smolensk, beyond
the Berezina, beyond Vilna, and farther still.
On the evening of the twenty-sixth of August, Kutuzov and the
whole Russian army were convinced that the battle of Borodino was a
victory. Kutuzov reported so to the Emperor. He gave orders to prepare
for a fresh conflict to finish the enemy and did this not to deceive
anyone, but because he knew that the enemy was beaten, as everyone who
had taken part in the battle knew it.
But all that evening and next day reports came in one after
another of unheard-of losses, of the loss of half the army, and a
fresh battle proved physically impossible.
It was impossible to give battle before information had been
collected, the wounded gathered in, the supplies of ammunition
replenished, the slain reckoned up, new officers appointed to
replace those who had been killed, and before the men had had food and
sleep. And meanwhile, the very next morning after the battle, the
French army advanced of itself upon the Russians, carried forward by
the force of its own momentum now seemingly increased in inverse
proportion to the square of the distance from its aim. Kutuzov's
wish was to attack next day, and the whole army desired to do so.
But to make an attack the wish to do so is not sufficient, there
must also be a possibility of doing it, and that possibility did not
exist. It was impossible not to retreat a day's march, and then in the
same way it was impossible not to retreat another and a third day's
march, and at last, on the first of September when the army drew
near Moscow- despite the strength of the feeling that had arisen in
all ranks- the force of circumstances compelled it to retire beyond
Moscow. And the troops retired one more, last, day's march, and
abandoned Moscow to the enemy.
For people accustomed to think that plans of campaign and battles
are made by generals- as any one of us sitting over a map in his study
may imagine how he would have arranged things in this or that
battle- the questions present themselves: Why did Kutuzov during the
retreat not do this or that? Why did he not take up a position
before reaching Fili? Why did he not retire at once by the Kaluga
road, abandoning Moscow? and so on. People accustomed to think in that
way forget, or do not know, the inevitable conditions which always
limit the activities of any commander in chief. The activity of a
commander in chief does not all resemble the activity we imagine to
ourselves when we sit at case in our studies examining some campaign
on the map, with a certain number of troops on this and that side in a
certain known locality, and begin our plans from some given moment.
A commander in chief is never dealing with the beginning of any event-
the position from which we always contemplate it. The commander in
chief is always in the midst of a series of shifting events and so
he never can at any moment consider the whole import of an event
that is occurring. Moment by moment the event is imperceptibly shaping
itself, and at every moment of this continuous, uninterrupted
shaping of events the commander in chief is in the midst of a most
complex play of intrigues, worries, contingencies, authorities,
projects, counsels, threats, and deceptions and is continually obliged
to reply to innumerable questions addressed to him, which constantly
conflict with one another.
Learned military authorities quite seriously tell us that Kutuzov
should have moved his army to the Kaluga road long before reaching
Fili, and that somebody actually submitted such a proposal to him. But
a commander in chief, especially at a difficult moment, has always
before him not one proposal but dozens simultaneously. And all these
proposals, based on strategics and tactics, contradict each other.
A commander in chief's business, it would seem, is simply to
choose one of these projects. But even that he cannot do. Events and
time do not wait. For instance, on the twenty-eighth it is suggested
to him to cross to the Kaluga road, but just then an adjutant
gallops up from Miloradovich asking whether he is to engage the French
or retire. An order must be given him at once, that instant. And the
order to retreat carries us past the turn to the Kaluga road. And
after the adjutant comes the commissary general asking where the
stores are to be taken, and the chief of the hospitals asks where
the wounded are to go, and a courier from Petersburg brings a letter
from the sovereign which does not admit of the possibility of
abandoning Moscow, and the commander in chief's rival, the man who
is undermining him (and there are always not merely one but several
such), presents a new project diametrically opposed to that of turning
to the Kaluga road, and the commander in chief himself needs sleep and
refreshment to maintain his energy and a respectable general who has
been overlooked in the distribution of rewards comes to complain,
and the inhabitants of the district pray to be defended, and an
officer sent to inspect the locality comes in and gives a report quite
contrary to what was said by the officer previously sent; and a spy, a
prisoner, and a general who has been on reconnaissance, all describe
the position of the enemy's army differently. People accustomed to
misunderstand or to forget these inevitable conditions of a
commander in chief's actions describe to us, for instance, the
position of the army at Fili and assume that the commander in chief
could, on the first of September, quite freely decide whether to
abandon Moscow or defend it; whereas, with the Russian army less
than four miles from Moscow, no such question existed. When had that
question been settled? At Drissa and at Smolensk and most palpably
of all on the twenty-fourth of August at Shevardino and on the
twenty-sixth at Borodino, and each day and hour and minute of the
retreat from Borodino to Fili.
When Ermolov, having been sent by Kutuzov to inspect the position,
told the field marshal that it was impossible to fight there before
Moscow and that they must retreat, Kutuzov looked at him in silence.
"Give me your hand," said he and, turning it over so as to feel
the pulse, added: "You are not well, my dear fellow. Think what you
Kutuzov could not yet admit the possibility of retreating beyond
Moscow without a battle.
On the Poklonny Hill, four miles from the Dorogomilov gate of
Moscow, Kutuzov got out of his carriage and sat down on a bench by the
roadside. A great crowd of generals gathered round him, and Count
Rostopchin, who had come out from Moscow, joined them. This
brilliant company separated into several groups who all discussed
the advantages and disadvantages of the position, the state of the
army, the plans suggested, the situation of Moscow, and military
questions generally. Though they had not been summoned for the
purpose, and though it was not so called, they all felt that this
was really a council of war. The conversations all dealt with public
questions. If anyone gave or asked for personal news, it was done in a
whisper and they immediately reverted to general matters. No jokes, or
laughter, or smiles even, were seen among all these men. They
evidently all made an effort to hold themselves at the height the
situation demanded. And all these groups, while talking among
themselves, tried to keep near the commander in chief (whose bench
formed the center of the gathering) and to speak so that he might
overhear them. The commander in chief listened to what was being
said and sometimes asked them to repeat their remarks, but did not
himself take part in the conversations or express any opinion. After
hearing what was being said by one or other of these groups he
generally turned away with an air of disappointment, as though they
were not speaking of anything he wished to hear. Some discussed the
position that had been chosen, criticizing not the position itself
so much as the mental capacity of those who had chosen it. Others
argued that a mistake had been made earlier and that a battle should
have been fought two days before. Others again spoke of the battle
of Salamanca, which was described by Crosart, a newly arrived
Frenchman in a Spanish uniform. (This Frenchman and one of the
German princes serving with the Russian army were discussing the siege
of Saragossa and considering the possibility of defending Moscow in
a similar manner.) Count Rostopchin was telling a fourth group that he
was prepared to die with the city train bands under the walls of the
capital, but that he still could not help regretting having been
left in ignorance of what was happening, and that had he known it
sooner things would have been different.... A fifth group,
displaying the profundity of their strategic perceptions, discussed
the direction the troops would now have to take. A sixth group was
talking absolute nonsense. Kutuzov's expression grew more and more
preoccupied and gloomy. From all this talk he saw only one thing: that
to defend Moscow was a physical impossibility in the full meaning of
those words, that is to say, so utterly impossible that if any
senseless commander were to give orders to fight, confusion would
result but the battle would still not take place. It would not take
place because the commanders not merely all recognized the position to
be impossible, but in their conversations were only discussing what
would happen after its inevitable abandonment. How could the
commanders lead their troops to a field of battle they considered
impossible to hold? The lower-grade officers and even the soldiers
(who too reason) also considered the position impossible and therefore
could not go to fight, fully convinced as they were of defeat. If
Bennigsen insisted on the position being defended and others still
discussed it, the question was no longer important in itself but
only as a pretext for disputes and intrigue. This Kutuzov knew well.
Bennigsen, who had chosen the position, warmly displayed his Russian
patriotism (Kutuzov could not listen to this without wincing) by
insisting that Moscow must be defended. His aim was as clear as
daylight to Kutuzov: if the defense failed, to throw the blame on
Kutuzov who had brought the army as far as the Sparrow Hills without
giving battle; if it succeeded, to claim the success as his own; or if
battle were not given, to clear himself of the crime of abandoning
Moscow. But this intrigue did not now occupy the old man's mind. One
terrible question absorbed him and to that question he heard no
reply from anyone. The question for him now was: "Have I really
allowed Napoleon to reach Moscow, and when did I do so? When was it
decided? Can it have been yesterday when I ordered Platov to
retreat, or was it the evening before, when I had a nap and told
Bennigsen to issue orders? Or was it earlier still?... When, when
was this terrible affair decided? Moscow must be abandoned. The army
must retreat and the order to do so must be given." To give that
terrible order seemed to him equivalent to resigning the command of
the army. And not only did he love power to which he was accustomed
(the honours awarded to Prince Prozorovski, under whom he had served
in Turkey, galled him), but he was convinced that he was destined to
save Russia and that that was why, against the Emperor's wish and by
the will of the people, he had been chosen commander in chief. He
was convinced that he alone could maintain command of the army in
these difficult circumstances, and that in all the world he alone
could encounter the invincible Napoleon without fear, and he was
horrified at the thought of the order he had to issue. But something
had to be decided, and these conversations around him which were
assuming too free a character must be stopped.
He called the most important generals to him.
"My head, be it good or bad, must depend on itself," said he, rising
from the bench, and he rode to Fili where his carriages were waiting.
The Council of War began to assemble at two in the afternoon in
the better and roomier part of Andrew Savostyanov's hut. The men,
women, and children of the large peasant family crowded into the
back room across the passage. Only Malasha, Andrew's six-year-old
granddaughter whom his Serene Highness had petted and to whom he had
given a lump of sugar while drinking his tea, remained on the top of
the brick oven in the larger room. Malasha looked down from the oven
with shy delight at the faces, uniforms, and decorations of the
generals, who one after another came into the room and sat down on the
broad benches in the corner under the icons. "Granddad" himself, as
Malasha in her own mind called Kutuzov, sat apart in a dark corner
behind the oven. He sat, sunk deep in a folding armchair, and
continually cleared his throat and pulled at the collar of his coat
which, though it was unbuttoned, still seemed to pinch his neck. Those
who entered went up one by one to the field marshal; he pressed the
hands of some and nodded to others. His adjutant Kaysarov was about to
draw back the curtain of the window facing Kutuzov, but the latter
moved his hand angrily and Kaysarov understood that his Serene
Highness did not wish his face to be seen.
Round the peasant's deal table, on which lay maps, plans, pencils,
and papers, so many people gathered that the orderlies brought in
another bench and put it beside the table. Ermolov, Kaysarov, and
Toll, who had just arrived, sat down on this bench. In the foremost
place, immediately under the icons, sat Barclay de Tolly, his high
forehead merging into his bald crown. He had a St. George's Cross
round his neck and looked pale and ill. He had been feverish for two
days and was now shivering and in pain. Beside him sat Uvarov, who
with rapid gesticulations was giving him some information, speaking in
low tones as they all did. Chubby little Dokhturov was listening
attentively with eyebrows raised and arms folded on his stomach. On
the other side sat Count Ostermann-Tolstoy, seemingly absorbed in
his own thoughts. His broad head with its bold features and glittering
eyes was resting on his hand. Raevski, twitching forward the black
hair on his temples as was his habit, glanced now at Kutuzov and now
at the door with a look of impatience. Konovnitsyn's firm, handsome,
and kindly face was lit up by a tender, sly smile. His glance met
Malasha's, and the expression of his eyes caused the little girl to
They were all waiting for Bennigsen, who on the pretext of
inspecting the position was finishing his savory dinner. They waited
for him from four till six o'clock and did not begin their
deliberations all that time talked in low tones of other matters.
Only when Bennigsen had entered the hut did Kutuzov leave his corner
and draw toward the table, but not near enough for the candles that
had been placed there to light up his face.
Bennigsen opened the council with the question: "Are we to abandon
Russia's ancient and sacred capital without a struggle, or are we to
defend it?" A prolonged and general silence followed. There was a
frown on every face and only Kutuzov's angry grunts and occasional
cough broke the silence. All eyes were gazing at him. Malasha too
looked at "Granddad." She was nearest to him and saw how his face
puckered; he seemed about to cry, but this did not last long.
"Russia's ancient and sacred capital!" he suddenly said, repeating
Bennigsen's words in an angry voice and thereby drawing attention to
the false note in them. "Allow me to tell you, your excellency, that
that question has no meaning for a Russian." (He lurched his heavy
body forward.) "Such a question cannot be put; it is senseless! The
question I have asked these gentlemen to meet to discuss is a military
one. The question is that of saving Russia. Is it better to give up
Moscow without a battle, or by accepting battle to risk losing the
army as well as Moscow? That is the question on which I want your
opinion," and he sank back in his chair.
The discussion began. Bennigsen did not yet consider his game
lost. Admitting the view of Barclay and others that a defensive battle
at Fili was impossible, but imbued with Russian patriotism and the
love of Moscow, he proposed to move troops from the right to the
left flank during the night and attack the French right flank the
following day. Opinions were divided, and arguments were advanced
for and against that project. Ermolov, Dokhturov, and Raevski agreed
with Bennigsen. Whether feeling it necessary to make a sacrifice
before abandoning the capital or guided by other, personal
considerations, these generals seemed not to understand that this
council could not alter the inevitable course of events and that
Moscow was in effect already abandoned. The other generals, however,
understood it and, leaving aside the question of Moscow, of the
direction the army should take in its retreat. Malasha, who kept her
eyes fixed on what was going on before her, understood the meaning
of the council differently. It seemed to her that it was only a
personal struggle between "Granddad" and "Long-coat" as she termed
Bennigsen. She saw that they grew spiteful when they spoke to one
another, and in her heart she sided with "Granddad." In the midst of
the conversation she noticed "Granddad" give Bennigsen a quick, subtle
glance, and then to her joys he saw that "Granddad" said something
to "Long-coat" which settled him. Bennigsen suddenly reddened and
paced angrily up and down the room. What so affected him was Kutuzov's
calm and quiet comment on the advantage or disadvantage of Bennigsen's
proposal to move troops by night from the right to the left flank to
attack the French right wing.
"Gentlemen," said Kutuzov, "I cannot approve of the count's plan.
Moving troops in close proximity to an enemy is always dangerous,
and military history supports that view. For instance..." Kutuzov
seemed to reflect, searching for an example, then with a clear,
naive look at Bennigsen he added: "Oh yes; take the battle of
Friedland, which I think the count well remembers, and which was...
not fully successful, only because our troops were rearranged too near
There followed a momentary pause, which seemed very long to them
The discussion recommenced, but pauses frequently occurred and
they all felt that there was no more to be said.
During one of these pauses Kutuzov heaved a deep sigh as if
preparing to speak. They all looked at him.
"Well, gentlemen, I see that it is I who will have to pay for the
broken crockery," said he, and rising slowly he moved to the table.
"Gentlemen, I have heard your views. Some of you will not agree with
me. But I," he paused, "by the authority entrusted to me by my
Sovereign and country, order a retreat."
After that the generals began to disperse with the solemnity and
circumspect silence of people who are leaving, after a funeral.
Some of the generals, in low tones and in a strain very different
from the way they had spoken during the council, communicated
something to their commander in chief.
Malasha, who had long been expected for supper, climbed carefully
backwards down from the oven, her bare little feet catching at its
projections, and slipping between the legs of the generals she
darted out of the room.
When he had dismissed the generals Kutuzov sat a long time with
his elbows on the table, thinking always of the same terrible
question: "When, when did the abandonment of Moscow become inevitable?
When was that done which settled the matter? And who was to blame
"I did not expect this," said he to his adjutant Schneider when
the latter came in late that night. "I did not expect this! I did
not think this would happen."
"You should take some rest, your Serene Highness," replied
"But no! They shall eat horseflesh yet, like the Turks!" exclaimed
Kutuzov without replying, striking the table with his podgy fist.
"They shall too, if only..."
At that very time, in circumstances even more important than
retreating without a battle, namely the evacuation and burning of
Moscow, Rostopchin, who is usually represented as being the instigator
of that event, acted in an altogether different manner from Kutuzov.
After the battle of Borodino the abandonment and burning of Moscow
was as inevitable as the retreat of the army beyond Moscow without
Every Russian might have predicted it, not by reasoning but by the
feeling implanted in each of us and in our fathers.
The same thing that took place in Moscow had happened in all the
towns and villages on Russian soil beginning with Smolensk, without
the participation of Count Rostopchin and his broadsheets. The
people awaited the enemy unconcernedly, did not riot or become excited
or tear anyone to pieces, but faced its fate, feeling within it the
strength to find what it should do at that most difficult moment.
And as soon as the enemy drew near the wealthy classes went away
abandoning their property, while the poorer remained and burned and
destroyed what was left.
The consciousness that this would be so and would always be so was
and is present in the heart of every Russian. And a consciousness of
this, and a foreboding that Moscow would be taken, was present in
Russian Moscow society in 1812. Those who had quitted Moscow already
in July and at the beginning of August showed that they expected this.
Those who went away, taking what they could and abandoning their
houses and half their belongings, did so from the latent patriotism
which expresses itself not by phrases or by giving one's children to
save the fatherland and similar unnatural exploits, but unobtrusively,
simply, organically, and therefore in the way that always produces the
most powerful results.
"It is disgraceful to run away from danger; only cowards are running
away from Moscow," they were told. In his broadsheets Rostopchin
impressed on them that to leave Moscow was shameful. They were ashamed
to be called cowards, ashamed to leave, but still they left, knowing
it had to be done. Why did they go? It is impossible to suppose that
Rostopchin had scared them by his accounts of horrors Napoleon had
committed in conquered countries. The first people to go away were the
rich educated people who knew quite well that Vienna and Berlin had
remained intact and that during Napoleon's occupation the
inhabitants had spent their time pleasantly in the company of the
charming Frenchmen whom the Russians, and especially the Russian
ladies, then liked so much.
They went away because for Russians there could be no question as to
whether things would go well or ill under French rule in Moscow. It
was out of the question to be under French rule, it would be the worst
thing that could happen. They went away even before the battle of
Borodino and still more rapidly after it, despite Rostopchin's calls
to defend Moscow or the announcement of his intention to take the
wonder-working icon of the Iberian Mother of God and go to fight, or
of the balloons that were to destroy the French, and despite all the
nonsense Rostopchin wrote in his broadsheets. They knew that it was
for the army to fight, and that if it could not succeed it would not
do to take young ladies and house serfs to the Three Hills quarter
of Moscow to fight Napoleon, and that they must go away, sorry as they
were to abandon their property to destruction. They went away
without thinking of the tremendous significance of that immense and
wealthy city being given over to destruction, for a great city with
wooden buildings was certain when abandoned by its inhabitants to be
burned. They went away each on his own account, and yet it was only in
consequence of their going away that the momentous event was
accomplished that will always remain the greatest glory of the Russian
people. The lady who, afraid of being stopped by Count Rostopchin's
orders, had already in June moved with her Negroes and her women
jesters from Moscow to her Saratov estate, with a vague
consciousness that she was not Bonaparte's servant, was really,
simply, and truly carrying out the great work which saved Russia.
But Count Rostopchin, who now taunted those who left Moscow and now
had the government offices removed; now distributed quite useless
weapons to the drunken rabble; now had processions displaying the
icons, and now forbade Father Augustin to remove icons or the relics
of saints; now seized all the private carts in Moscow and on one
hundred and thirty-six of them removed the balloon that was being
constructed by Leppich; now hinted that he would burn Moscow and
related how he had set fire to his own house; now wrote a proclamation
to the French solemnly upbraiding them for having destroyed his
Orphanage; now claimed the glory of having hinted that he would burn
Moscow and now repudiated the deed; now ordered the people to catch
all spies and bring them to him, and now reproached them for doing so;
now expelled all the French residents from Moscow, and now allowed
Madame Aubert-Chalme (the center of the whole French colony in Moscow)