Following the battle of Smolensk, Ney’s IIIrd Corps crossed the Dnieper River and pursued the Russian armies at they headed east. 50,000 men of Barclay de Tolly‘s Russian army became lost and marched nine hours through the woods at night, only to find that they had marched in a semi-circle and were only a mile further down the road than when they had started. To make matters worse, Ney’s Corps was now only a few miles away although Ney didn’t realize it at first.
Faber du Faur picks up the story: “Ours corps (IIIrd), with the 11th Division to the fore, followed the Russian rearguard for a number of hours until it took up a position near Valutina-Gora and made ready to accept battle.”
“The terrain was boggy and treacherous and impeded the use of both artillery and infantry. The Moscow road passed over the Kolovdina stream by means of a bridge and then climbed the wooded heights, almost perpendicularly, before reaching the Valutina plateau. The Russians had placed infantry on this plateau and trained heavy guns on the road and on the valley below and had thrown thousands of light infantry into the surrounding woods. Ney did not have sufficient men with which to attack this formidable position and, initially, bombarded the Russians and sent forward clouds of skirmishers. However, just after five in the evening, Gudin‘s division of I Corps arrived, sent forward in support by the Emperor. Ney deployed and led his troops forward into the bloody battle.”
“…Gudin himself fell at the head of his division, close by the Kolovdina bridge, struck down by a mortal wound… It was around 11 o’clock that evening, with the moon shining down on the heaps of bodies, that the Russians finally withdrew.”
“We camped where we stood on the field of battle, amongst the dead and wounded. Many of the latter dragged themselves towards our campfires, hoping to share in our meal. By the morning most of these unfortunates had died.”
A re-enactment of this battle recently took place in Russia on August 4, 2012. About 1,200 people participated from Russia, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States. Below are some photos of that re-enactment. Thank you to my friend Alexey Temnikov for providing the information and photos for this event.