Alexey Temnikov, a re-enactor with the French 5th Cuirassiers, recently participated in the 200th anniversary of the battle of Borodino. I met Alexey through Facebook and he has been extremely generous with his time and talents in translating Russian for me, sharing photos and images depicting the period as well as providing the information for this blog post about the re-enactment at Borodino.
2012 is the 200th anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812 when the Russians defeated Napoleon. Many re-enactments of battles from that year have taken place (Smolensk, Pavlovsky Posad, Tarutino and Maloyaroslavets) and another yet to come (Berezina). In addition there have been exhibitions, festivals and concerts. New movies have been filmed and small battles have been staged even in places Napoleon did not go such as Krasnoyarsk. But the biggest event of all was the re-construction of the battle of Borodino held in early September.
Alexey became interested in the Napoleonic period when his parents gave him a copy of In the Terrible Time by Mikhail Bragin as a birthday present. He sought out and watched the movies War and Peace and Waterloo and was hooked. An admirer of horses and a rider from a young age, only the hussars would do when Alexey decided to join a re-enactment regiment in 1992. He remembers calculating how old he would be at the 200th of Borodino. Originally, he joined the Russian cuirassiers wearing the uniforms of the Military Order of St. George. In 2002, however, his career called and he left re-enacting. After a visit to Borodino, Alexey returned to the hobby in 2010, this time as a member of the 5th Regiment of Cuirassiers of Napoleon’s army, a unit where he had many friends. As an added benefit, he was able to do some re-enactments with his son, Andrew.
To stage a re-enactment of Borodino required much planning. An event of this significance attracted thousands of re-enactors from around the world: The United States, Canada, Europe and all over Russia. There were problems with visas and permission to bring weapons into the country. Horses that used to rent for $100 per day now had a going rate of $170. Tents had to be found for the participants from abroad. Organizers bought firewood, straw and hay, and brought in toilets as well as bathing and drinking water. Fellow re-enactors stepped forward to help provide what the organizers could not, such as warm clothes, hot food and beverages to keep their guests warm. Some of these re-enactors arrived 10 – 15 days ahead of the anniversary. Regiments cooked their own food leading up to the event when organizers fed them for the last two days.
On the day of the event, September 2, there were ceremonies to honor the fallen of 200 years ago. The Russian ceremony was on the Rayevski battery at the Great Redoubt. The French ceremony was held at the monument for the Fallen of the Grande Armée. Russian President Vladimir Putin represented Russia while former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing represented France. In the soldiers’ camp, Alexey’s 5th Regiment of Cuirassiers held their own ceremony honoring members who had passed away. They made a display of photos of these fallen comrades who were unable to be there on that special day.
The logistics of accommodating the crowd and preparing for the visit of President Putin were enormous. Security forces examined the entire area of the re-enactment and uncovered 32 kilograms of explosives from WWII. Roads were blocked by the police and tourists had to walk as far as eight kilometers to the site.
The battle was re-enacted in three stages: the battle for the town of Borodino and the crossing of the Koloch river, the attack on the village of Semenovskaya, and the assault on the Great Redoubt. Rain began to fall as the two hour re-enactment came to an end with many horses falling on the wet grass.
The crowd was ecstatic with the appearance of Mark Schneider and Pavel Timofeev portraying Emperor Napoleon and General Mikhail Kutuzov, respectively. Alexey said having them there added beauty to the battle.
Alexey summed his experience up as follows: “Borodino has an extraordinary aura, a kind of energy. It is hard to describe, but one can feel it. In the evening fog as if the shadows of the fallen, one cannot help thinking – I am not a coward, but how can I go into battle and kill people with my sword and trample them with my horse? I fall asleep to the sounds of the camp and the neighing of the horses. For all of us, all of Russia and all of the visitors – that day will be remembered forever.”
Blogger’s Note –
I (Scott Armstrong) grew up doing American Revolutionary War re-enacting with my family so I have a particular interest in the re-enacting aspect. Our Borodino was the siege of Yorktown, which led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’ army, and eventually, to the end of the war which gave America her independence. I was fortunate enough to attend the 200th anniversary of that event with my father in 1981 and the 225th in 2006, this time with my own family as well as my father.
As I look at the photos and hear the stories about re-enacting the Napoleonic period, I am reminded of how much it looks like American Revolutionary War re-enacting here in the United States (although the Napoleonic re-enactors have better uniforms and more horses). During the US Bicentennial, my father and I spent many weekends traveling to re-enact on the various 200th anniversaries of battles of the American War for Independence. Growing up outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we were centrally located for events from Quebec, Canada to Savannah, Georgia. We even did re-enacting in France and later in England.
We are both still members of the Ist Continental Regiment from Pennsylvania. Growing up as a re-enactor gave me many unforgettable experiences: Parades in Philadelphia, New York City, and Paris (on the Champs Elysée), serving as an honor guard for a former US President (Ford), a battle at Dover castle in England, travelling in National Guard army trucks and, of course, participating in many battle re-enactments.
There were also other benefits to this hobby. All of those hours spent in the car with my father gave us much time to talk and be together. I also met my wife through re-enacting when she and her father joined our regiment. We became engaged at a re-enactment in Colonial Williamsburg and have since attended many re-enactments with our own family. ~ Scott Armstrong