Chapter 11

The central sector – from Smolensk to Borodino

‘The staff is useless; not one of the officers does his duty properly,
not the provost-general, nor the quarter-master.’

The negative effects on the army of Napoleon’s continued rush to catch the Russians were commented on by von Lossberg:

If I could not see the great road to Moscow, I could follow it with my nose because of the stench! At least every hundred paces is a dead horse or cow, which has been slaughtered and whose innards are strewn all over the road.

In every village or isolated house are unburied human dead, both the enemy’s and ours, which no-one has bothered to bury. Truly, today has convinced me that Napoleon is so obsessed with the idea of catching and destroying the Russian army, that he pays no heed to the shattering effect that this pursuit has on his own army.

So the army trudged on eastwards, getting weaker, smaller and further from its bases with every weary step. The drain of manpower became obvious to the Emperor. On 2 September he ordered Alexander Berthier to write to the corps commanders on the topic:

My Cousin: Order the King of Naples, the Prince of Eckmühl, the Viceroy, Prince Poniatowski, the Duke of Elchingen, to take a day’s rest, to get in their stragglers, to have a rollcall at three in the afternoon, and to let me know precisely the number of men they can place in line.

The staff is useless; not one of the officers does his duty properly, not the provost-general, nor the quartermaster. You have my order for the baggage. See to it that the first baggage wagons I order burnt are not those of the general staff.

A most revealing sentence considering that he had just condemned the lot of them as being ‘useless’. And as he had selected all the senior staff officers personally, what did that say about his acumen for getting the right men in the right jobs?

Next day, again to Berthier, Napoleon ordered:

Write to the officers commanding the army corps that we lose so many men daily because there is no system in the supply service; it is urgently necessary that they should take measures in concert with their colonels to put an end to the state of things that threatens the army with destruction. Every day the enemy pick up several hundred prisoners. During the twenty years in which I have commanded French armies, I have never seen the commissariat service so hopelessly bad; there is no one; the people sent out here have no ability and no experience.

So, in just two days the scales had suddenly fallen from his eyes as to the efficiency of his general staff and his commissariat and to the extreme strategic attrition that his army was suffering, deep in hostile Russia. But why only now? Was he so insulated from what had been happening to his army even since before he crossed the Niemen on 23 June? Did he not see the thousands of corpses of his men and his horses lining the route of his advancing columns? Did he receive no daily and weekly parade states? Did he not read them and notice the dwindling numbers of men and horses day after day, week after week? Or did Berthier fudge all the figures? It seems hardly likely. The truth is that the welfare of his army only became a matter of concern to him when it was painfully obvious that it was falling apart, melting away. A state of affairs that might endanger his own personal aims.

Schewardino, 5 September. A hamlet in the central sector, 3 km south west of Borodino. A French victory (Davout’s I and Ney’s III Corps) over Borosdin’s VIII Infantry and General Count Siever I’s IV Cavalry Corps.

This was the foreplay to the battle of Borodino. The redoubt here was a tiny earthwork, flanked by artillery batteries but isolated from the main Russian army to its rear. Napoleon ordered Davout’s I Corps to attack it from the west and north and for Poniatowski to assault it from the south.

Defence of the work had been delegated to Neverovsky’s 27th Infantry Division, which had performed so well in its baptism of fire at Krasnoi on 14 August. The Russians had deployed the 5th, 49th and 50th Jaegers in skirmishing order on the south bank of the Kalotscha (here merely a rivulet) north of Fomkino and then south in the scrub along the eastern bank of the Doronino stream. Other troops were in support.

In the late afternoon, Compans’s 5th Division Jaegers out of Fomkino advanced in battalion columns to assault the redoubt itself. At the same time, Morand’s 1st Division and Friant’s 2nd pushed south through Aleksinki, Friant attacking the Russian artillery and dragoons north of Schewardino, Morand heading through Schewardino itself. Behind the infantry was the cavalry of General Bruyeres’ 1st Light Cavalry Division of Nansouty’s I.

Holzhausen, a German eyewitness in VIII Corps, recorded:

It was wonderful to see the keenness of our soldiers. The beauty of the scene was enhanced by the magnificent sky and by the setting sun which was reflected from the muskets and sabres. The troops marched on, proud to have been chosen to be the first to come to grips with enemy.

This pointless struggle for an insignificant and indefensible pimple of a hill had held up Napoleon for a few hours, had demonstrated what tough opponents the Russians were and how bravely the French and their allies could die, but all in all, it was a waste, particularly when every man would be needed by both sides for the impending main battle. Barclay was disgusted with the affair, as was Yermolov. Rumour had it - and there was a fair ring of truth to it - that Bennigsen had chosen to fortify and hold the site and would not allow the troops to abandon it without a fight in order not to lose face.

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Staff officers of the IV Corps at Borodino. Albrecht Adam.

The day cost Napoleon about 4,000 killed, wounded and missing and five guns. The Russian losses are less clear; Buturlin states: ‘over 1,000 men’ which is surely too few; Thiers shows ‘7 – 8,000’ and Barclay de Tolly gives ‘6,000 and three guns’. To Napoleon’s astonishment, not one prisoner had been taken.

Segur quotes Colonel Jacques Ricard of the 61e Ligne responding to Napoleon’s question after the action: ‘Where is your Third Battalion?’ by saying ‘It is in the redoubt, sire.’

Having seen the reconstruction of this feature, the quote must be taken with a large pinch of salt.

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On 6 September 1812, at Borodino, Napoleon said ‘At last we have them! Forward march! We are going to open the gates of Moscow!’

There are certain similarities between the strategic situation prior to the battle of Austerlitz and to that just before Borodino. In both cases, Napoleon had brought his army to the end of an extremely long and fragile line of communication; in both cases, campaign attrition had greatly reduced the strength of his army; in both cases, the enemy’s army was still largely intact; in both cases, Napoleon desperately needed to land his legendary knock-out blow so that he could end the campaign, dictate peace on his terms and get back to Paris to concentrate on the management - and expansion - of his empire.

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A sentry on the battlefield of Borodino. Albrecht Adam. Author’s collection.

Captain Franz Morgenstern1 recalled how, on the afternoon of 6 September, he had the opportunity to see Napoleon at close quarters for the first time:

He was dressed in an open, light grey overcoat, under this a green tunic on which a star was visible; white breeches, riding boots. On his head was his world-famous tricorn. He sat on his grey Arab with the reins hanging over the neck and used both hands to hold his telescope with which he studied various points of the terrain in the direction of the Russian lines. His peaceful, faintly yellow, marble countenance, the high, wide forehead - within which he was undoubtedly formulating tomorrow’s battle plans - and the respectful silence of the high-ranking officers surrounding him (I recognized Berthier, Murat, Ney, and Junot) all made such a powerful impression on me that I could hear my heart pounding loudly. Yes, truly, the close proximity of this extraordinary man wove a spell and made it clear to me how his French soldiers, bleeding to death on the battlefield, would summon their last strength to cry out a last ‘Vive l‘Empereur!’

Borodino, 7 September. Centre. A village on the upper River Moskwa, 105 km west of Moscow. A victory of Napoleon’s main body of the Grande Armée over Kutusov’s combined 1st and 2nd Armies of the West.

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Borodino, 7 September. The epic battle was preceded by the clash at the Schewardino redoubt two days previously. Borodino was nothing more than a bloody slogging match, with no dash of genius to leaven it. Napoleon lost 28,000 casualties, the Russians, now under Kutusov, lost about 43,000 (largely due to their dense formations, which offered the French gunners such wonderful targets) and twenty guns. The Russian army was still intact. This is a Blackwood map.

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General Count Matvei Ivanovich Platow, Hetman of the Don Cossack Host. He defeated the French cavalry at Korelitchi, Mir and Romanowo early in the advance, and at Borodino his raid (together with Uwarow) on the French northern flank, won the Russians much valuable time on 7 September. Among his Russian decorations is the Austrian Order of Maria Theresa.

On 7 September a blood-bath, one of Napoleon’s worst battles, was fought at Borodino, seventy miles west of Moscow. By this time, the cunning old General of Infantry Prince Micheal Illarionovich Golenischev Kutusov had taken command of the Russian army in place of Barclay de Tolly and the honour of the nation demanded that a battle be fought to save Moscow.

Prior to this battle, Napoleon received a dispatch from Spain reporting Marshal Marmont’s defeat at Wellington’s hands at Salamanca on 22 July. Perhaps the news caused him to be a little careful at Borodino.

On the eve of the action, Davout suggested a right-flanking manoeuvre; the Emperor dismissed this as being too risky; he was all for a head-to-head slogging match.

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Emmanuel, Comte de Grouchy, General, Commander, III Cavalry Corps. Author’s collection.

Kutusov expected the main enemy thrust to be along the new road to Moscow, north of the chosen battlefield. He thus devoted most of his available labour to digging fortifications in the woods against the River Moskwa in that area; a totally wasted effort as events proved. Other fortifications were built on the hill just south of the Kalotscha stream (the Grand Battery) and further to the south (the Bagration Flêches). Napoleon’s massed artillery batteries were sited out of range of the Russian lines and had to be moved forward when this error was discovered.

At the start of the fighting, Eugene’s IV Corps seized Borodino village. The Russians retook it and later mounted a cavalry raid north of the place, deep into the rear of Eugene’s IV Corps. Although this raid was only partially successful – it had no infantry support – it caused Eugene to panic and to withdraw his corps from the area of the Grand Battery for some hours.

The emperor did not sleep well the previous night, partly due to his illness. Very many others also had difficulty in getting to sleep, mainly because of the tension of the coming action. Captain Morgenstern was a happy exception.

Later that evening I met a Cuirassier who was looking for his brother in our regiment and learned from him that our 2nd Kuerassier Regiment was bivouacked nearby. I went over to their camp to visit Lieutenant Colonel von Cramm, a boyhood friend with whom I had served in the army of Brunswick. We had not seen one another for years and our joy at meeting was great. With a bottle of wine and a hearty snack – the Kuerassiers were far better off than we poor devils – the time passed so quickly that it was late at night when we parted, each wishing the other the best for the bloody work of the morrow and that we might meet again, in good health, tomorrow evening. [Von Cramm survived Russia, only to be killed at Quatrebras in 1815.]

Morgenstern continues:

My sergeant wakened me from a deep sleep before reveille; it was 4am; a profound silence reigned. A signal gun was fired; all along the line, reveilles rang out to wake any still asleep. My company’s roll-call revealed three officers, all the NCOs, 81 soldiers and 3 drummers as being present. I had the corporals inspect the men’s muskets and ammunition. Our regiment was already drawn up on parade when the order reached us to put on full dress as quickly as possible. [this was often done for set-piece battles and usually involved putting on plumes, shako cords, epaulettes, medals and decorations]

Officers were allowed to remain in their blue, undress uniforms. After this had been done, the emperor’s proclamation was read out before each battalion.

This stirring address was greeted by the French regiments with the usual ‘Vive l’Empereur!’; the Württembergers responded with : ‘Es lebe der Koenig!’ [Long live the King!] The emperor’s words had touched the spot in all our hearts!

Morgenstern’s Westphalian corps was made up mainly of young conscripts (as were most other formations except, of course, the Imperial Guard) and he related the following interesting phenomenon, which took place as they stood for about an hour, inactive under the artillery fire.

Already we had suffered casualties when my senior sergeant, who had seen much action in his past service in the armies of Hessen-Kassel, Prussia and Austria, delighted me with his sense of humour when he came up to me and suggested that I order the three flankers next to me to stick out their tongues. This I did and was surprised to see that all their tongues were as white as their uniforms! I at once ordered others to do the same; theirs too were white. The sergeant assured me that this was the case with all men who were going into action for the first time. Of course, I had to put this to the proof and demanded that he show me his tongue; he obliged immediately - it was lobster-red! ‘And yours, captain?’ he grinned. ‘We’ll just let that remain my secret.’ I replied. The tongue test spread quickly to neighbouring companies and caused considerable hilarity as they were all white.

At about 6.30am, Napoleon, hearing that the battle for Borodino village was in full swing and calculating that Poniatowski’s V Corps must be making good progress through the woods on the southern flank towards Utitza on the old Moscow road, ordered the first assault on the flêches to begin. Davout’s I Corps was to lead the way with Compans’s 5th Division aimed at the right-hand work. For this day’s assault, the Emperor had arranged the command of the forces in the central sector so that Marshal Ney controlled all the infantry involved and Murat managed the cavalry. One effect of this arrangement was that General Junot, commander of the VIII Corps, was left without a job. Junot’s obstinate and erratic behaviour at the battles of Smolensk and Valutina-Gora had deprived the Westphalians of any chance of earning Napoleon’s praise on these days and they had no regrets that he would not be with them today.

The garrison of the flêches was Neverowski’s 27th Division of Borosdin I’s VIII Corps; in each work was a battery of twelve guns. General Prince Karl of Mecklenburg’s 2nd Grenadier Division was in close support.

Compans had two objectives: the flêche itself and the woods directly to the south, which were infested with the 49th and 50th Jaegers. In good order Compans’s regiments marched forwards into a storm of Russian artillery fire. It has been calculated that almost 300 guns of both armies exchanged fire in the intense struggle which took place in a sector of the field about two kilometres square. The din was incessant, deafening; through it all the regimental drums beat the pas de charge, shells exploded, the wounded and dying screamed and groaned, officers and NCOs yelled commands, wounded horses thrashed about on the ground or careered riderless through the ranks.

Many eyewitnesses have recorded how limited their vision was at this point as the air filled with the smoke of discharging guns, exploding shells and clouds of dust thrown up by the projectiles and by passing cavalry regiments. The chaos that reigned is difficult for anyone that has not experienced its like to comprehend; the shock to the nervous systems of those going into action for the first time was immense, numbing.

It was just before 7am when Compans’s 5th Division approached the southernmost flêche. The artillery barrage had lasted about one hour. The French infantry threw the Russian Jaegers out of the wood and advanced at the pas de charge, storming over and around the ruined work and evicting the Russian garrison. A rapid and spirited counter-attack threw them out again. Not to be robbed of their prey, the French regrouped, assaulted again and took the flêche for the second time. The fighting was fierce; the casualties mounted, particularly among the French commanders who were often too close to the front line for their own good. Compans was wounded by a musket ball in the right shoulder (his twenty-second wound), probably from General Schakhowski’s Jaegers in the woods to the south. Then, in rapid succession, Generals Duplain, Rapp and Dessaix (commanding the 4th Division), who in turn took over from him, were wounded in their turn. Marshal Davout was also hit.

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Members of the Italian Guard in bivouac. Albrecht Adam.

Platow’s Cossacks in the raid on the French northern flank on 7 September at Borodino. Had this raid been backed up with infantry and adequate artillery, this battle - and the entire campaign-might have had quite a different outcome.

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Italian ration wagon of the IV Corps, returning from Moscow. Faber du Four.

The flêches had been built with no ditch or rampart on the eastern sides; any enemy forcing their way into the fortification would be fully exposed to fire from the Russians standing in reserve. It was not long before the French were thrown out again by the 2nd Grenadier Division of Major General Prince Karl von Mecklenburg and the 12th Infantry Division of Major General Wasiltschikof. At last, some Russian reinforcements arrived on the scene from the north in the shape of General Sievers I’s IV Cavalry Corps (Kiev and New Russia Dragoons, Akhtyrsk Hussars and Lithuanian Lancers), and with this 2,000-strong force, Sievers temporarily broke the French grip on the flêches and drove Davout’s I Corps back to the edge of the woods.

General Yermolow attributed the fact that the Russians held on for so long in this sector against such crushing pressure to their superior use of the bayonet.

At one point, two regiments of Württemberg cavalry and the King of Naples were forced to fly for their lives back to the southernmost flêche. Here, Murat soon found himself in a critical situation; penned up by some cuirassiers against a part of the ramparts which was still intact and which his horse had no chance of climbing. He was saved by a troop of Württemberg infantry which, seeing his predicament, swarmed out over the ramparts, drove off the cuirassiers and thus bought him time to dismount and climb into the redan, upon which they followed him. This event was immortalised by the Württemberg artist Faber du Four who was present at the battle.

It was not until about 11.30am that the struggle for the flêches was finally decided in favour of the allies. By this time, General Prince Bagration had been mortally wounded and taken to the rear. The surviving Russians in this sector pulled slowly and sullenly back eastwards over the Semenowskaya stream.

Roth von Schreckenstein2 gave us some idea of the desperate situation in which some of the cavalry regiments of the IV Cavalry Corps found themselves at about midday: ‘As men and horses were being shot all the time, the men were fully occupied closing to the centre and telling off in their new files of three; this constant telling off never stopped.’

Latour-Maubourg, commander of the corps, saw that if he could move his corps somewhat to the left, they would benefit from the cover afforded by a gentle dip in the ground. He was loath to have his command carry out a full flank march to the new site in case the Russians should sieze the opportunity to attack them as they did so. He thus sent repeated orders to his subordinates, by means of his ADCs, to carry out several minor ‘shuffles’ in order to achieve the same objective. Not having his commander’s aims explained to him, General Thielmann became increasingly frustrated by the repeated visitations of his minions with apparently pointless instructions, and eventually he boiled over.

It was the bad luck of one of Latour-Maubourg’s ADCs, a young Pole, to come to General Thielmann’s brigade to deliver the next order for it to move to the left just as this happened. He arrived just as Thielmann was between the Garde du Corps and the Zastrow Kuerassiers exchanging his wounded horse for a new mount. Not seeing the general, the ADC delivered the order directly to the regimental commanders. Much to Thielmann’s surprise, his brigade began to move off, apparently of its own accord. Spotting the ADC, Thielmann rode up and demanded to know why the order had not been delivered to him. The hapless ADC replied that Thielmann ‘had not been at his post’. This was the last straw for the general. Flying into a rage, he drew his sabre and charged straight at the Pole, chasing him all the way back to Latour-Maubourg. Here he explained to his astounded commander that he was not one of those who would allow himself to be ordered about by adjutants, much less be insulted by them. Furthermore, if the said ADC showed his face anywhere near him again, he would run him through!

It says much for Latour-Maubourg’s regard for Thielmann’s proven reputation as a brave and competent commander that he did not at once arrest him but calmed him down and took the trouble to explain his aims to him in detail.

Montbrun’s II Cavalry Corps was subject to a similar ordeal when they advanced into line north of Lorge’s division, just west of the Semenowskaja stream. The general himself was mortally wounded by a shell splinter as he rode at a walk along the front of his regiments. ‘Good shot!’ a Prussian trooper heard him murmur as he slid from his horse. Montbrun died at five o’clock that evening from the effects of his stomach wound; he was regarded among the Germans in the Grande Armée as being one of the most honourable men in the French army.

The next tactical feature to fall to the French was the fortified village of Semenowskaya, about a kilometre to the south of the Grand Battery; this exposed the southern flank of the battery. When Prince Eugene’s troops returned to their position in front of the Battery, they prepared to make the third assault. This time, the infantry were to aim for the north flank of the structure; Montbrun’s II Cavalry Corps was also to assault the northern side of it, but to strike before the infantry arrived, and the IV Cavalry Corps was to swing around into it from the south.

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Allied cavalry before Borodino. Faber du Four.

As Roth von Schreckenstein wrote, General Auguste de Caulaincourt3 was by now attached to the II Cavalry Corps, but only in the capacity of a brigade commander, not at divisional or even corps level as some writers have suggested in the past. This error has been compounded by the King of Naples, who wrote in his report (as he related the capture of the heights of Semenowskaya by Latour-Maubourg between 10.30 and 11.30):

Je fis alors passer le General Caulaincourt à la tête du 2. Corps de reserve; à peine fut-il de l‘autre côté du ravin, que je lui donne l’ordre, de charger sur la gauche tout ce qui se trouve d’ennemis et de tacher d’aborder la grande redoubte (Rajewsky Battery) qui, nous prenant en flanc, nous faisait beaucoup de mal, s‘il trouvait l’occasion favourable. Cet ordre fut executé avec autant de célerité que de bravour. [I got General Caulaincourt to lead the second corps of the reserve; scarcely was he on the other side of the ravine than I gave him the order to charge any enemies on the left and to try to take the big redoubt if he got a good opportunity, which, on our flank, was giving us a deal of trouble. This order he carried out with as much celerity as bravery.]

This ‘occasion favourable’ did not occur until much later, after two o’clock, when Prince Eugene made his final assault on the Battery, probably at the same time as Thielmann received his orders for the same attack. At that point however, the King of Naples was close to the village of Semenowskaya and a long way away from the II Cavalry Corps.

By saying that Caulaincourt was ‘at the head’ of the II Cavalry Corps, Murat gives the distinct impression that he was actually in command of it. Chambray, on the other hand, has Caulaincourt at the head of Watier’s division after this general had been wounded. Meanwhile, Lorge’s 7th Cuirassier Division was suffering the continued effects of the Russian artillery bombardment with great stoicism. In fact, now that they had moved a little further to the left, into a slight dip in the ground, their casualty rate had decreased somewhat. This relief was amplified by the fact that many of the shells which landed among them now had their fuses set too long; instead of bursting in the air just above their target in order to create maximum havoc, most buried themselves in the ground, the fuses were snuffed out and the shells did not detonate. The situation became so relaxed that General Thielmann ordered the men to break out their weeks-old rations of hard tack biscuits and take a frugal snack.

Just before three o‘clock, Eugene’s infantry moved off to the assault. Shortly afterwards, one of Napoleon’s ADCs galloped up to the impatient Thielmann and delivered to him the long-awaited message: ‘On behalf of the Emperor, I bring you the order to attack!’

This same order had also been delivered to the II Cavalry Corps. Caulaincourt led Watier’s 2nd Cuirassier Division forward against the north flank of the Battery, Sebastiani’s 2nd Light Cavalry and Defrance’s 4th Cuirassier Divisions advanced directly on the front of the work, while Lorge’s 7th Cuirassier Division advanced on its southern flank. What actually happened in this massive allied cavalry assault has been obscured by dubious, partisan French reports, generated at Napoleon’s instigation and scarcely questioned since then. Which regiment was it that was first into the Battery? Which regiment actually took — and held - it?

Napoleon, giving orders as Bavarian cavalry move forward at Borodino. Prince Eugene is on the left. Faber du Four. Author’s collection.

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As we shall see, Napoleon’s official rumour mill worked at top speed and with its customary efficiency to ensure that posterity would be forced to accept his version of events. In the years following the battle, however, small voices could be heard - by those willing to listen - which must lead us to treat this Napoleonic bulletin with the circumspection now accorded to so much else that he wrote, or commanded to be written.

Meerheim described the final assault on the Rajewsky Battery as follows:

The redoubt lay at the top of a steep slope rather like the one which we had had to climb to get into Semenowskaya.4 It was covered by a fairly wide ditch but built, happily, only of loose earth, without pallisades and obviously constructed in a hurry. On the side facing us there was a deep, narrow valley5 like a second ditch which we also had to cross before we could storm the actual crest of the ridge. In the Battery itself were maybe 12 or more guns; the remaining space was filled with infantry. The ditch and the ‘ravine’ were also filled with infantry. Behind the Battery were several, fairly strong squares of infantry relatively close together and ranged along the far side of the valley east of the ridge on which the Battery stood. We saw (or rather felt) the presence of a strong force of artillery also on that ridge.

Apart from this, we could see several lines of infantry and cavalry in reserve further back. In the dip towards Borodino6 were more masses of infantry and cavalry which had previously been concealed from our view.

We charged at the ‘ravine’ and ditch, the horses clearing the bristling fences of bayonets as they would have Chevaux de fris. The combat was frightful! Men and horses hit by gunshots collapsed into the ditches and thrashed around among the dead and dying, each trying to kill the enemy with their weapons, their bare hands or even their teeth. To add to this horror, the succeeding ranks of assaulting cavalry trampled over the writhing mass as they drove on to their next targets - the infantry squares - who greeted them with well-aimed volleys. [von Meerheim now speaks of Russian infantry in huts in the valley east of the Battery firing out of the windows at them but I can find no trace of a similar account of such constructions and the nearest village east of the Battery is Kniaskowo, over 1,600 metres away - DGS]

Despite all the perils and obstacles we were unstoppable and burst over and into the Battery, inspired by the examples of our commanders, Generals Latour, Thielmann and our brigade adjutant von Minkwitz. The interior of the Battery was an indescribable mess of infantry and cavalry all intent on killing one another. The garrison of the place fought to the last.

Napoleon (and many historians since) attributed the final capture of Rajewsky’s Battery to French cuirassiers under the leadership of Caulaincourt. This on-the-spot, eyewitness account, together with the carefully conducted investigation of Roth von Scheckenstein contained in his book Die Kavallerie in der Schlacht an der Moskwa, should finally lay this ghost.

On page 105 of his work, von Schreckenstein wrote:

If I return again to the Report of the King of Naples of 9 September, concerning the participation of the Reserve Cavalry in the battle, it is because this report contains a number of inaccuracies that have been repeated in subsequent documents including the Bulletin by the Marquis de Chambray of 10th September. In my footnote 30 to section 10 I have already shown how completely wrongly Chambray describes Latour-Maubourg’s attack on Semenowskaya village. Chambray is equally unclear on page 180 concerning the capture of the Rajewsky Battery where he has Caulaincourt enter the work by wheeling to the left, having previously charged a line of the enemy. This is what he wrote: ‘Eugene ordered the divisions of Broussier, Morand and Gerard to cease firing and to storm. At the same time, Caulaincourt, at the head of Watier’s division, overthrew the line of the enemy that was opposite to him, then, wheeling left, charged through the troops close behind the redoubt then, turning back towards the work, entered it from the rear. Eugene stormed over the parapet from the front at this same instant; all who defended themselves were cut down. Twenty-one guns fell into French hands. Watier resumed his position on Eugene’s right flank. Caulaincourt had been fatally wounded in the redoubt itself. It was now three o’clock’.

According to this, it seems that the Marquis de Chambray was ignorant of the fact that it was only Defrance’s division which assaulted on the right of the redoubt and that Watier’s division attacked it from the direction of Borodino, whilst the Saxon cavalry penetrated into it from the direction of Semenowskaya. This writer [Chambray] relates nothing of the active participation of Latour-Maubourg’s [IV] corps here because there was nothing about it in the Bulletin and nothing in the Report. I feel that it is quite possible that Caulaincourt was wounded near the Battery, but I feel that it is quite unacceptable for the King of Naples to bury the victor’s laurels with HIM.

Segur tells us that General Count Auguste-Danielle Belliard, Murat’s chief of staff, was sent back to Imperial headquarters to urge Napoleon to throw in his reserve and decide the battle. He returned in consternation.

It is impossible to get the Emperor to send his reserve! I found him sitting on the same spot, looking sick and depressed, his face sagging, his eyes dull, giving orders languidly in the midst of the horrible din of war, which he doesn’t even seem to hear. When Ney was informed of this, he flared up and shouted: ‘Have we come all this distance to be satisfied with one battlefield? What’s the Emperor doing behind his army? He doesn’t see any of our successes there - only our reverses. Since he isn’t fighting the war himself any longer and isn’t a general any more, but wants to play the Emperor everywhere, why doesn’t he go back to the Tuileries and let us be generals for him?’

The day wore on and still the grand battery held out.

Murat’s heavy cavalry moved forward to make what was to be the decisive charge. Segur tells us that General Baron Auguste-Jean Caulaincourt rode past him at the head of the 5th Cuirassiers: ‘You’ll see me up there very soon - dead or alive!’ he said. With that he dashed off and mowed down everything that stood in his way. Then, having led his cuirassiers around to the left of the grand battery, he was the first to enter this gory redoubt, but a bullet struck and killed him. His conquest became his grave.

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Artillery coming up during the battle of Borodino. Albrecht Adam. Author’s collection.

Segur wrote: ‘We are too far away from our reinforcements. All Europe lies between Napoleon and France, and we must preserve at least this handful of men to be answerable for his safe return.’ According to Segur, Napoleon, on hearing of the losses of his generals at Borodino, said: ‘One week in Moscow, and this will not matter any more!’ Years later, however, in exile on St Helena, Napoleon wrote of Borodino:

Of all the battles which I have fought, that before Moscow was the most significant. The French showed themselves in it to have been worthy of the victory and the Russians earned the right to call themselves The Unbeaten.

He was also supposed to have said: ‘Of all my fifty battles, Borodino cost me the most and brought me the least.’

Segur then wrote:

Henceforth his victory at the Moskwa, incomplete as it was, would become his finest feat of arms. Thus all that might have contributed to his ruin would contribute to his glory. The next few days would decide whether he was the greatest man in the world or the most foolhardy; in short, whether he had raised himself an altar, or dug himself a grave.

History proved very conclusively which it was to be.

Allied losses were 28,000 including many of Napoleon’s veteran generals. The Russians lost about 44,000 - the exact figures will never be known — but their army withdrew towards Moscow, still intact.

Following this bloody battle, the unfortunate VIII Corps was ordered to stay behind and clear up the site, rescue the wounded, bury the dead and secure usable guns and weapons. On 12 September they entered Moshaisk, where a battalion of the 6th Infantry Regiment was detached to the town of Wereja, some 15 km off to the south; more of those unfortunates later.

Other Westphalian units were left in Dorogobuzh, Gschatsk and Wiasma. The only Westphalian troops to enter Moscow were part of the 3rd Line Infantry Regiment, the 2nd and 3rd Light Battalions and 60 hussars commanded by Colonel Bernard.

Notes

1

Of the 2nd Westfalian Line Infantry Regiment, VIII Corps.

2

A junior officer in the Saxon Zastrow Kuerassiers in the battle.

3

One of Napoleon’s ADCs and brother to the French ex-ambassador to the Czar.

4

This I cannot understand; the slope from the west up to the site of the Redoubt is level and gentle — DGS.

5

Not today! There is only a wide and shallow depression to the east of the Grand Battery — DGS.

6

Along the Goruzka stream — DGS.

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