The Battle of Borodino

Antony Brett-James has an account by General Jean Rapp, aide-de-camp to the Emperor, who was on duty the night before the battle and slept in Napoleon’s tent: “The place where he rested was usually separated by a canvas partition from the room reserved for the duty aide-de-camp.  The Emperor slept very little.  I woke him several times to give him reports from the outposts which all proved that the Russians were expecting an attack.  At three o’clock in the morning he summoned the valet de chambre and had some punch brought in.  I had the honour of drinking some with him.  He asked if I had slept well.  I replied that the nights were already cool and that I had frequently been woken.”

“He said to me: ‘Today we shall have to deal with this celebrated Kutuzov.  No doubt you remember that it was he who commanded at Braunau during the Austerlitz campaign.  He stayed in that place for three weeks without leaving his room once.  He did not even mount his horse to go and inspect the fortifications.  General Bennigsen, although as old, is a much more energetic fellow.  I cannot understand why Alexander did not send this Hanoverian to replace Barclay.’  He took a glass of punch, read several reports, and then added:

‘Well, Rapp!  Do you think that we shall have a successful day?’

‘There is no doubt about it, Sire.  We have used up all our resources, and have simply got to win.’  Napoleon went on reading and then said: ‘Fortune is a shameless courtesan.  I have often said it, and I am beginning to experience it.’ …

“Napoleon sent for Prince Berthier, and worked until half past five.  Then we mounted.  The trumpets sounded, the drums beat, and as soon as the troops spotted us, there were acclamations all the way.  ‘It is the Austerlitz enthusiasm again.’ ”

Who fired first?  Alexander Mikaberidze in The Battle of Borodino writes that it is generally agreed that the French fired first.  But some Russian accounts disagree.  D. Danilov of the 2nd Artillery Brigade claimed one of his guns fired first and the French replied.  He wrote “At dawn, the first Russian cannon shot was fired by our battery and this round was made by me personally… Everything fell silent but several minutes hardly passed when a long line of French guns, deployed in front of Shevardino, erupted in response.”

Levin August, count von Bennigsen, one of the Russian generals, believed Raevsky’s battery fired the first shot.  Kutuzov’s adjutant, Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky noted “the first cannon-ball, fired by the enemy batteries, was directed towards the house occupied by Prince Kutuzov.”  Kutuzov’s ordinance officer Dreyling confirmed: “It barely dawned when the enemy fired his first round.  One of the very first cannon-balls flew above our heads and shattered the roof of the house where Kutuzov was billeted.”

Jakob Walter, a Westphalian soldier on the French side,  describes the battle: “On September 7, every corps was assigned its place, and the signal to attack was given.  Like thunderbolts the firing began both against and from the enemy.  The earth was trembling because of the cannon fire, and the rain of cannon balls crossed confusedly.  Several entrenchments were stormed and taken with terrible sacrifices, but the enemy did not move from their place…  Now the two armies moved more vigorously against one another, and the death cries and shattering gunfire seemed a hell…”

“This beautiful grain region without woods and villages could now be compared to a cleared forest, a few trunks here and there looking gray… Within a space an hour and a half long and wide, the ground was covered with people and animals.  There were groans and whines on all sides.  The stream separated the battlefield into two parts… Over the river there was a wooden bridge that had been burned… the banks on both sides of the bridge were filled with dead piled three and four deep.  Particularly the wounded who could still move hurried to the river to quench their thirst or to wash their wounds; but the suffering brothers had no help, no hope of rescue: hunger, thirst, and fire were their death…”

“We moved forward and camped by a forest on a height facing Moscow; it was a wood of green trees.  Here we not only had nothing to eat but also no water to drink, because of the high camp site; and the road through the fields was still covered with dead Russians.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s