The Field at Borodino September 17

Faber du Faur’s unit passed back over the field on September 17 and was able to describe and paint the scene, “Here, close by, in all its horror, was the valley of the Shevardino, close to where Morand’s division had been positioned at the start of the battle.  This is the battlefield long after the furious fighting had subsided, long after those violent passions had cooled, long after the powerful exclamations of honour and duty, which so stifle man’s humanity, had died away.  Now the battlefield has assumed the aspect we see before us, the ferocious masses of troops having been called away to some other scene of victory, and the silence of the tomb reigns supreme.  Bodies lie in heaps, enemy and friend alike united in profound peace.  Here and there a horse is still moving, having survived its deceased rider.”

On the Field of Borodino,
September 17
By Faber du Faur

“As we drew closer we could see that the corpses were, after eleven days, rotting away.”

“Below darkened skies, bands of fog, as though out of compassion, shielded us from seeing more of this vast scene of desolation.  Even so, we could plainly see the blood-soaked contours of the grand redoubt, the possession of which had been contested with such unabated fury.  A column had been erected within the redoubt bearing an inscription to the effect that here lay Montbrun and Caulaincourt, surrounded by fallen heroes.”

“The glory of our own troops was enshrined in these very redoubts, for it was here that Murat, overwhelmed by superior numbers, had sought shelter amongst us.”

“Here, on this field, we inscribed in the pages of history that never-to-be-forgotten name of Borodino.  No struggle had ever been so stubbornly contested; none had seen such numbers employed or such casualties on such a restricted area.”

“The bridge over the Kolotscha, situated just behind Borodino, was the scene of a bloody struggle on the 7th.”

The Bridge Over the Kolotscha,
Near Borodino Village,
17 September
by Faber du Faur

“The battle had opened with the seizure of Borodino village.  The 106th Line Regiment had been ordered to storm the village.  Having done so, they charged on over the bridge, towards the Gorki heights.  There, met by superior numbers, and confronted by a murderous fire from Russian entrenchments, they were thrown back to the bridge, having sustained terrible casualties.  The 92nd Line were rushed to their support, saving the bridge from destruction.”

“During the battle the bridge had been cleared by throwing any corpses into the river.  I saw that few now remained, hinting lightly at the terrible struggle that had taken place at this bridge over the Kolotscha.”

Eleven days after the bloody battle we marched over the corpse-strewn field.  Here the most horrific scenes lie far away in the distance and silence shrouds the countryside round about, for the angel of death had stalked this land.”

Behind the Village of Borodino,
By the Main Road to Moscow,
17 September
by Faber du Faur

“Those who fought at Borodino will recognize the picture, drawn from the main Moscow road and looking back on the scene of destruction.  On the right, in the valley where the Slonetz meets the Kolotscha, is Borodino village, the dome of its church looking down sadly on the ruins of Semenovskii to the left.  It was here, between these two points, that the battle was fought; the fight was bitter but our troops were ultimately victorious.”

Note that in the images above, all of the bodies have bare feet.  By now, having marched hundreds of miles across Europe, shoes were in short supply.   Aubin Dutheillet, a 21-year-old lieutenant with the 57th Line Regiment of I Corps wrote that during the battle, “General Teste’s ADC suffered the same fate [killed]; and by this time I was so short of footwear I stripped the unfortunate ADC, still not cold, of the boots he had on his feet to put them on my own!”

Sources:

With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Faber du Faur, Edited by Jonathan North

1812: Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, Paul Britten Austin, p. 275

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