Tag Archives: General Mikhail Kutuzov

“More Than Equal To The Russian Troops”

Faber du Faur arrived at Krasnoi on the night of the 15th and described the accommodations and the situation the army found itself in.

Camp at Krasnoi, 16 November
by Faber du Faur

Camp at Krasnoi, 16 November
“We had forced our way through the Russians and reached Krasnoi as night fell.  The Young Guard, under [Édouard Adolphe] Mortier, was stationed on the road to Korythnia whilst Imperial Headquarters and the Old Guard, which still counted some 5,000 men in its ranks, occupied the little town and filled every house.  Everyone else, including ourselves, had to make do with whatever shelter they could find in the streets and gardens and considered themselves lucky if they were able to warm themselves by a fire.  This is how we spent the night.  We awoke on the morning of the 16th and only then did we appreciate the losses of the day before – men were missing, equipment and matériellost – and the danger we were now in as Kutuzov’s 90,000 Russians had

Count Mikhail Miloradovich

cut all apparent means of escape.  Before us the road to Gadi was occupied by Russians, the bulk of their army lay on our left flank and Miloradovich was on the Krasnoi-Korythnia road, barring our retreat to Smolensk and preventing us from linking up with Eugène, Ney and Davout, whose troops still lay around that town.  However, we were not disheartened for we placed our confidence in Napoleon and were convinced that, however we might fare against the Russian climate, we were more than equal to the Russian troops.”

“We spent the whole of the 16th waiting for the three army corps to come up from Smolensk and making demonstrations against the Russians around Krasnoi.  The boom of cannon and the rattle of musketry resounded around this little town throughout the day.  During the night of 16/17 November the guard managed to extricate Eugène and the remains of his corps.  But as Ney and Davout had not appeared by noon on the 17th, and fearing that we had remained too long at Krasnoi, and that the defile to Orscha might be cut, we began to march off towards Lyadi.  Thus the Imperial Guard marched out of Krasnoi and attacked the Russians to our left; these quickly fell back.  All of a sudden all firing stopped and we were able to reach Lyadi without hindrance and without having seen or heard the enemy.”

Source:
With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur, 1812, Edited by Jonathan North

Blogger’s Note: This is the 200th post on this blog (including re-posts from 2011).  Thank you for reading!

Guest bloggers are welcome.  Contact me at ScottArmstrong@RussianSnows.com

~ Scott Armstrong

The Army Begins to Leave Smolensk

On the 14th, Napoleon left Smolensk.  The corps of Eugene, Davout and Ney were to follow at one day intervals.  Sgt. Adrian Bourgogne who was a member of the Imperial Guard followed a short time after Napoleon acting as rearguard of the men accompanying the Emperor.  We pick up Bourgogne’s narration while he was waiting for the artillery to cross a ravine:  “When we were at the other side, I saw three men round a dead horse; two of them staggered about as if they were drunk.  The third, a German, lay on the horse; the poor wretch was dying of hunger, and, not being able to cut the flesh, was trying to bite it.  He soon afterwards died where he was of cold and hunger.  The two others, Hussars, were covered with blood about the hands and mouth.”

“…walking by the side of the highroad to come up with the right of the column, and then wait for our regiment near a fire, if we were lucky enough to find one…. all along our way we were forced to step over the dead and dying…  we saw a man of the line sitting against a tree near a little fire; he was busy melting snow in a saucepan to cook the liver and heart of a horse he had just killed with his bayonet.”

“As we had rice and oatmeal with us, we asked him to lend us the saucepan to cook them, so that we could all eat together.  He was so delighted; so with the rice and straw-oatmeal we made some soup, seasoning it with a little sugar… as we had no salt.  While our soup was cooking, we roasted some bits of liver and kidneys from a horse, and enjoyed it greatly.”

Meanwhile, 90,000 Russian troops under General Mikhail Kutuzov, who were marching on a parallel road, finally caught up to and passed the Grande Armée.

Source:
Sergeant Bourgogne: With Napoleon’s Imperial Guard in the Russian Campaign and on the Retreat from Moscow 1812-13, Adrien Bourgogne, pp 101 – 102

“That Day Will Be Remembered Forever” A Re-enactor’s Story of Borodino

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.

Alexey Temnikov at Borodino
2012

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.

The 5th Regiment of Cuirassiers Salute
The Emperor

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.

President Vladimir Putin
Inspects a Soldier

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.

It Began to Rain
Near the End of the Battle

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.

Mikhail Kutuzov at Borodino 2012
Portrayed by Pavel Timofeev

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.

Re-enactment at Yorktown 1981
Scott Armstrong is on the very far right (1/2 cut off),
back to the camera, wearing a green coat.
His Father, Jack Armstrong, is third from the right
wearing a brown coat, back to the camera

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

The Emperor’s Narrow Escape

George F. Nafziger in his book, Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, describes the events surrounding a sudden attack by the Cossacks on the morning of the 25th that nearly caused Napoleon to be captured or killed.  Napoleon had set out in the early morning hours to reconnoiter the situation before deciding his next move.  He took two squadrons of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde Imperiale as an escort.  A swarm of Cossacks appeared and charged at the group.  Napoleon’s staff officers joined in the fight and the enemy was beaten off.

Napoleon decided to back-track and head north to retrace the route of the advance rather than continue on the southerly route.  He did not realize Kutusov had abandoned his positions.  A more thorough reconnaissance would have revealed that Malo-Jaroslavets was abandoned.   This is one of the few cases where both armies retreated from the field of battle.

Sergeant Adrien Bourgogne, a member of the Imperial Guard, participated in this skirmish which he describes in his memoirs:  “On the 25th I had been on guard since the previous evening near a little house where the Emperor had spent the night.  There was a thick fog, as there often is in October.  All at once, without informing anyone, the Emperor mounted his horse, merely followed by some orderly officers.  He had scarcely gone, when we hear a great noise.  Just at first we supposed it to be cries of ‘Vive L’Empereur!‘ but then we heard the order ‘Aux armes!‘ — ‘To arms!’  Six thousand Cossacks, commanded by Platoff, had come to surprise us, favoured by the fog and the deep ravines.  The squadrons of the Guard on duty flew across the plain.  We followed them, crossing a ravine to make a short-cut.  We found ourselves directly in front of this host of savages, who howled like wolves as they drew back.  Our squadrons came up with them, recaptured what they had taken of our baggage and wagons, and inflicted heavy losses on them.”

“When we got to the plain, we saw that the Emperor was in the midst of the Cossacks, surrounded by Generals and by his orderly officers, one of whom was dangerously wounded through a fatal mistake.  Just as the squadrons arrived on the plain, many of the officers, for their own defense and that of the Emperor, who had nearly been taken in the midst of them, had been obliged to use their swords against the Cossacks.  One of the orderly officers dropped his hat and his sword after killing and wounding several of the Cossacks; so, finding himself defenseless, he threw himself on a Cossack, and took his lance from him.  Just at that moment a mounted Grenadier of the Guard caught sight of him, and, thinking from his green cloak and his lance that he was a Cossack, rushed at him, and ran him through the body.”

“The unhappy Grenadier, on seeing his mistake, endeavoured to get killed.  He flung himself amongst the enemy, striking to right and left, but everyone fled before him.  After killing several men, without being able to die himself, he returned, alone and covered with blood, to ask after the officer he had wounded.  Fortunately he [the wounded officer] recovered, and was taken back to France in a sledge.”

“I remember that, just after this incident, the Emperor was talking to Murat, laughing at the narrow escape he had had of being taken.”

Approaching Malo-Jaroslavets

General Sir Robert Wilson was at Kutuzov’s headquarters on October 23 when messengers began arriving with news that the French had left Moscow.  “It was clear Malo-Yaroslavets was the point on which the enemy was moving; and whilst the corps was getting under arms, advice was received that the enemy from Fominskoye was already on the march in that direction.  Not a moment was lost: by seven o’clock the corps of Dokhturov was straining every nerve to reach Malo-Yaroslavets before the enemy whose lights were frequently visible during the night, as the columns occasionally approached within a mile or two of each other.”

Inscription on the picture – Oh no,
Will They Eat Horse Meat as the Turks?
Inscription on the card –
I Said Will They Eat Horse Meat?
Kutuzov at Fili
Commemorative 1912 Russian
Candy Box Card

“Malo-Yaroslavets is built upon the side and summit of a lofty hill, rising immediately above the Luzha, and over which river is a bridge distant about a hundred yards from the ravine.  The ground on both flanks of the town, ascending from the river, is woody and steep, and the ground on the left is intersected with very deep fissures and ravines, so as to be impracticable for artillery movements from the bank of the river.  The whole town is built of wood; near the summit of the hill there is an open space like a grande place; and near the ravine, at the bottom are a church and a couple or more of houses that command the approach.”

Meanwhile, on the French side, Jakob Walter was outside Malo-Yaroslavets on guard duty the night before the battle: “Near Jaroslavetz in the evening the Russian Moldavian army, which had come from Turkey, met us.  In this city I was ordered on guard at the headquarters of the general staff while the army encamped in front of the city.  Here the inhumanity of the commanders began to mount: the remaining troops’ weapons were inspected, and many who did not have their weapons fairly rust-free got 12-20 strokes with a club until they were near desperation.”

Sources:
The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, Jakob Walter, p. 59

1812: Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia, Antony Brett-James, p. 213

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.”

Napoleon at Borodino

“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 Writes the Dispositions for Borodino
Commemorative 1912 Russian Candy Box Card

“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-

Kutuzov at Borodino

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…”

The Battle of Borodino has Ended

“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.”

Sources:
1812: Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia, Antony Brett-James

Image and translation of the Commemorative 1912 Russian Card was provided by Alexey Temnikov

The Eve of Battle on the Russian Side

I’ve been reading Alexander Mikaberidze’s book The Battle of Borodino: Napoleon Against Kutuzov.  He describes the scene that took place in the Russian camp the day before the battle:  “The eve of the battle was a Sunday, and many participants commented on an unusual calmness that descended on their camp that day.  To uplift the morale of his troops, [General Mikhail] Kutuzov  had the icon of the Black Virgin of Smolensk paraded through the ranks of the army.”

Parading of the Icon of Smolensk
on the eve of the Battle of Borodino

“Suddenly, as participants recounted, shouts of ‘[an] eagle is soaring!’ were heard, and thousands of soldiers looked up to see the bird gliding through the sky.  Kutuzov took off his cap as ‘The men around him shouted ‘hurrah’ and the yell was carried by the entire Army.  The eagle was still in the sky and the seventy-year-old commander, taking it as a good omen, stood with his head bared.  It was a remarkable sight!… A hundred thousand Russians were yelling ‘hurrah!'”

Antony Brett-James includes an account from a Russian captain with the grenadiers of the Fanagoria Regiment in his book 1812: Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia.   “The soldiers were in fairly good order, and as they had had a rest during the last few days, they now sat, wrapped in their long grey coats, round the fires – and often joined in chorus to sing the … national songs which the Russian people are fond of.  This singing before the battle had a strange effect on me, and I listened to it for several hours until eventually I fell asleep, exhausted… 7 September was just dawning when I was woken by the roar of cannon from our right flank by the village of Borodino, and the battle began.”