Borodino 1812

This article looks at the battle of Borodino, fought as Napoleon’s Grandy Army drew close to the goal of Moscow in September 1812:

Napoleon’s lumbering and once-grand army was approaching Moscow in September 1812. Brought a thousand miles by imperial ambition, the dust-covered, multinational host raised its hopes in the belief that at Moscow it would deliver the blow that would end the campaign. Worn by constant marching, and unable to fight a Russian army that withdrew neatly and efficiently, the French and their allies longed for battle. A battle for Moscow.

            And, sure enough, the Russians were preparing to defend their city. The Czar’s army, as frustrated by relentless retreat as the French were by constant pursuit, was looking for a battle before the French and their allies reached the city gates. If they lost, they lost Moscow. If they won, then Napoleon’s troops would plunge into an abyss. At the end of August Kutuzov, the sly Russian commander, weighed the odds and began his search for a defensive position somewhere along the Moscow road.

            Napoleon sensed the subtle change, gauged Kutuzov’s resolve and received reports on the Russian preparations. He urged his vanguard under Murat to push and prod the Russian rearguard under Konovnitzin whilst simultaneously gathering in detachments and urging the long column of tired troops forwards for the final effort. On 1 September the French entered Gjatsk and spent the next two days recuperating and living off the city’s ‘potatoes, pulses and cabbages’. Or at least Napoleon’s Guard did.

            On the 5th, the French cavalry reported back that the Russian army had been drawn up, and readied for battle in a position around the little village of Borodino. Napoleon set his troops in motion. Kutuzov had settled upon a strong position before the town of Mojaisk, seventy miles to the west of Moscow.

            The countryside around Mojaisk was rolling and replete with hills and ravines; these provided the Russians with a number of opportunities for a defensive battle but they strengthened their centre still further with some hastily-constructed earthworks. Borodino village, on the right of the Russian position, was on the Kolotscha River and, on the opposite bank, to the left of the village, there was a plateau which the Russians fortified and branded the Great Redoubt. To the left of this lay the partially destroyed village of Semenovskaja and beyond that some more earthworks (the fleches). The left of the Russian position was weaker and there the defence depended primarily on some thick woods and enclosures. The village of Utitza, on the old Smolensk–Moscow road, in a clearing amongst the trees, formed the extreme left of the Russian position. In front of the Russian position another earthwork had been built – the Schevardino Redoubt.

            As the French drew nearer they launched an attack on this redoubt, Davout’s veterans of I Corps running into action. General Neverovskii, entrusted with the defence and well-known for his stubbornness and enterprise, fought back. General Compans, commanding one of Davout’s divisions, sent the 57th and 61st Line forwards. Their attack was stalled by fierce Russian resistance and soon Poniatowski’s Polish troops were brought forwards to support Davout’s men. Dusk was blighted by the infernal struggle as Frenchmen and Poles fought Russian in the confused, makeshift earthwork. Finally, exhausted the Russians slipped away in the night, leaving the French in possession of the ruined redoubt.

            On the 6th both sides peered at each other, weighing up the coming confrontation. Kutuzov positioned himself near the village of Gorki. He had pulled in some 120,000 men for the battle. Many were veterans but a good number were fresh, nervous replacements. The total also included 19,000 cossacks and hastily-raised militia of dubious worth. But the infantry could rely on an impressive body of artillery for support: 640 cannon had been hauled to the field of battle. Kutuzov appointed Barclay to command the right wing and centre of the army and the brave Bagration took charge of the more-exposed left.

            Napoleon spent the dayreconnoitering the Russian position. He thought it a poor one, with half-completed earthworks and shallow ditches. Scourning suggestions that the French should manoeuvre, he opted for an assault which would pin down and gradually wear down the Russian army. His troops shared their emperor’s optimism. The weak and the sick had dropped out and Napoleon could count on 132,000 veterans and 587 guns. Napoleon’s aim of wearing down and destroying the Russians, and pursuing them off the field of battle with legions of cavalrymen, was a tried and tested stratagem. But Borodino was to be no Austerlitz.

            That night the emperor, grumpy and suffering from a bad cold, selected the remains of the Schevardino Redoubt for the location of his HQ, pitched his tent and prepared himself for the most important battle of the campaign.

            Soldiers in both camps were restless or nervous. Many had spent the day looking at the Russians add to their defences and knew what defeat would bring. Even those confident of victory knew, as Heinrich von Roos did, that it would be a hellish fight:


‘We’d seen the Russian position and it was good, and we saw their entrenchments and, behind them, masses of troops, their weapons shining in the sun. We knew they had numerous artillery and that they would have made every effort to gather in as many troops as they could for the impending confrontation. The battle was sure to be tough, for both sides.

            We were convinced that our army was superior in number and that we were better acquainted with the practice of war. But we knew that the Russians were steady, and fought obstinately even against canister.’


The Russians knew who they were up against. Veterans of 1805 and 1807 had tasted bitter defeat. But they also knew that this battle would be different. A battle for Moscow, to defend Russia and to chase out the horde of invaders. The army’s morale was high as General St Priest noted: ‘Our army is in good spirits and, thank God, in good condition.’


Dawn broke, cold and wet. It had been a long night and the armies awoke hungry. Napoleon’s troops were tormented by lack of food – Lieutenant Vossler noted that his pre-battle supper consisted of ‘a miserable plateful of bread soup oiled with the stump of a tallow candle’. The Russian soldiers nibbled their hard, ration biscuits or cooked soup around their fires.


Napoleon had been up since 2.00 in the morning. Now he drew his army up and had the following proclamation read to them:


‘Soldiers, behold the field of battle you have so much desired! Henceforth victory depends on you! It is necessary to us, it will give us plenty, good quarters for winter and a speedy return to your country. Behave yourselves as you did at Austerlitz, Friedland, Vitebsk, Smolensk so that posterity might say of you “He was at the great battle under the walls of Moscow.”’


Then at six in the morning the French guns opened up on the enemy position. Eugene marshalled his troops on the French left and, supported by two of Davout’s divisions, aimed to strike at Borodino and the Russian center. Ney’s III Corps and Junot’ VIII Corps were opposite Semenovskaja village in the French center whilst Davout was to initially attack the fleches. Finally, Poniatowski and his Poles were to attack Utitza on the extreme right of the French. The French cavalry were held in reserve, ready to act in support of these infantry assaults. Behind them the veterans of the Imperial Guard looked on dressed in their finest.

            As the artillery of both sides got into their stride, Eugene’s infantry were the first to advance. Delzons’ division attacked the village of Borodino, held by a regiment of Russian Guard Jägers, and the French poured in among the wooden houses and around the church The Jägers fell back over the Kolotscha and the French pursued. Elated, General Plauzonne and the 106th Line crossed the river, but were largely destroyed by a counter-attack during which the Russians took the opportunity to demolish the bridge.

            Eugene’s disappointment was short-lived as he turned his attention planning his attack on the Great Redoubt. The smoke was becoming denser, shells arched their way through the autumn sky and roundshot rolled and crashed their way through lines and columns of men. Davout launched an attack on the fleches; ignoring the artillery his columns came on. Stung by sharpshooters and swept by canister the French approached Bagration’s men. The troops of the 2nd Combined Grenadier Division and Neverovskii’s 27th Divisionprepared to meet the onslaught. Compans’ 57th Line broke into the southern fleche but was thrown back by a stubborn counter-attack. Compans and Davout were wounded and the French were compelled to turn tail. Russian cavalry came up to pursue:


‘We saw Russian cuirassiers charge and fall upon our troops like a tempest. The charge wasn’t directed against us but against a battery of thirty of our guns. The cavalry passed close by and we fired into it; it didn’t slow them down, and neither did the storm of canister coming from the guns themselves, and they fell upon the artillery, cutting down those gunners who weren’t fast enough to throw themselves under their cannon. Soon, however, the Russians were thrown back in disorder by fresh French cavalry and again had to pass us by. Our troops fired into them and even ran forwards with their bayonets, hoping to cut off their retreat.’


Marshal Ney now supported Davout, sending Ledru’s division to help. The French again attacked, General Desaix being wounded in the arm, and pushed into the corpse-strewn earthworks. The Russian artillery stuck to their guns and were quickly supported by waves of cavalry and infantry. Captain Bonnet of Ney’s corps recalled the scene:


‘Our division moved forward to attack the three redoubts to its front. Moving slightly to the right, and sweeping through some undergrowth, we pushed forwards towards the first redoubt and came under artillery fire. The first redoubt was taken by troops in front of us and we therefore marched on the second position. Our four battalions were deployed one behind the other. The redoubt, and four cannon, fell to our men. Before long a swarm of enemy skirmishers advanced towards us from the left whilst a heavy column of infantry came at us. I deployed my battalion and attacked the column; it fell back but exposed us to canister from artillery positioned in a village. The battalion was almost swept away, men falling by the dozen. We pushed on towards a ravine which separated us from the village but caught sight of another enemy column advancing steadily towards us. Those of us left turned tail and retreated, maintaining, however, a steady fire against the column. We reached the redoubt but could not defend it as it was open on their side. The Russians darted forwards and we evacuated the position. I jumped off the earthworks and ran, narrowly escaping a Russian who grabbed at my greatcoat. I jumped over the ditch. I was shot at least twenty times but escaped unharmed, although my shako was hit.’


Ney was obliged to send in another division, this time the 25th Division composed of Württembergers, in support. Junot’s corps assisted and the Reserve Cavalry, too, were brought forward to tip the scales. Both sides poured in more and more troops, doubling their attempts to possess the earthworks. The French launched another assault, the 57th Line again advancing and eliciting from Bagration cries of ‘Bravo! Bravo!’ for their bravery. But, at the critical moment, Bagration was struck in the leg by canister and had to be carried off the field. The Russians lost heart and fell back, maintaining their fire, but seriously depleted as a Russian officer noted: ‘I came across Bourmin, our commander, at the head of forty men. That was all that remained of our regiment.’

            The French were too exhausted after six hours of fighting to celebrate their first success. The Russians, now under Dokhturov, had rallied and the men in the fleches became the target for the masses of Russian artillery. An officer in the 25th Division recalled that:


‘Our troops were stationed in one of the Russian redoubts; an earthwork which the enemy had defended most stubbornly, then lost, then retaken, then abandoned one last time. Our men had played a key role in the struggle and were now resting on their laurels. But it was no bed of roses. An enemy battery of twenty guns was constantly bombarding them.’


As the struggle for the fleches had been taking place, Poniatowski had attempted to take Utitza from Tutchkov. His men fought valiantly, despite their depleted numbers, trying no doubt to banish with their valour the insult napoleon had heaped upon them earlier that summer when he called them a ‘bunch of f***ing ballet dancers’. Despite their courage, the Poles could make little headway against Tutchkov’s militia seasoned with regulars. After making some progress, and taking Passerevo on the old Smolensk–Moscow road, the Poles spent most of the rest of the day fighting for possession of woods and copses.

            After Borodino village had fallen Eugene had concentrated on taking his next objective – the Great Redoubt. As Ney and Davout fought for the fleches, Eugene threw his men against this formidable Russian position. General Rajevsky, a stubborn and capable officer, was placed in command of the position and had personally overseen the construction of the defences. Rajevsky wrote ‘We built these batteries ourselves. A sapper officer advised us to dig a series of wolf-pits 150 metres before the redoubt as the position was at risk of being overrun by cavalry. We did this and now all we have to do is await the enemy.’

            By 10.30 Eugene was ready to launch his assault. The position had been blasted by the French artillery and now the French infantry, drawn up in splendid columns and goaded by the scene of destruction around them, began to move forwards. Russian skirmishers were driven back and the French came on. Rajevsky describes the scene as the French approach:


‘This was the decisive moment. As soon as the enemy came into range, the artillery opened up and the enemy columns were obscured by smoke A second volley rang out and one of my staff officers shouted to me ‘General, save yourself!’. I turned around and caught sight of some French grenadiers who had penetrated the redoubt. It was with some difficulty that I reached my left wing.’


François, of the 30th Line, was on the other side and remembered the assault:


‘Our regiment received the order to advance. We reached the foot of the slope, within range of the Russian artillery, and we were almost swept away by a storm of canister from the battery in front of us. We had to keep jumping up to allow round-shot to roll harmlessly through our ranks. However, entire files and platoons were obliterated and gaps began to appear in our ranks. General Bonamy, at the head of the regiment, dressed the ranks and lead us forwards at the charge. We stormed up the slope and clambered over the earthworks; I jumped into the redoubt just as a Russian gun had been discharged. The Russian gunners met us with hand-spikes and ramrods. We fought hand-to-hand and they were redoubtable adversaries. I defended myself with my sword and killed more than one gunner. I’ve been in many campaigns but I’ve never been in such bloody fighting and against soldiers as tenacious as the Russians.’


The Russian infantry broke and fled from their position but Rajevsky, supported by General Yermolov and the gallant twenty-two-year-old General Kutaisov, was quick to counter-attack. General Bonamy was wounded fifteen times, captured by Grenadier Zolotov of the 18th Jägers, and taken to the rear. The French stumbled back down the slope in shock. The attack had failed but the French had sufficient morale to regroup and try again. Unfortunately, at this decisive moment, Eugene’s attention was deflected by a Russian movement on his left wing. Some 8,000 cavalry led by General Uvarov and Platov, had swept round above Borodino and were menacing the French left flank. The attack had caused consternation at headquarters and had thrown the French trains and baggage personnel into confusion. But, although crowned with some initial success the charge soon ran into fierce resistance. Uvarov’s Guard Hussars were beaten off by Delzons and Platov’s men dissipated themselves in fruitless manoeuvres. But, all the while, the Russians were gaining time. Eugene was in no position to continue his assaults and elements of Roguet’s Young Guard had even been sent north to see off the threat.

            Having taken the fleches, the French were now exerting themselves against Semenovskaja village. Davout’s troops seized the ruined village and punched a hole in the Russian line. The French called for support, Napoleon sent forward some of the Guard artillery under Sorbier. Some 85 guns were rushed towards Semenovskaja, adding their fire to the French artillery already wreaking havoc on the masses of Russians trying desperately to close the gap in their line. The bombardment was terrific, whole files being blown away. But the Russians stood their ground despite the cost. Löwenstern came across Ostermann’s troops on the receiving end of the French artillery:


‘His corps had been smashed. As I was speaking to the general, roundshot fell about us in such quantity that horses were knocked over, men killed and we were showered with earth at every moment. Prince Galitzyn was badly wounded; General Bakmetiev lost his leg and Ostermann himself was wounded.’


The French too had gaps in their lines as men were killed, wounded or strayed from the ranks. Such gaps were plugged by cavalrymen. Instead of waiting for the final assault against scattered Russians, the cavalry corps were being brought up to bolster the front line. This exposed the mounted troopers to the full blast of the Russian artillery. And mounted men made good targets. Here a cuirassier captain describes the unnerving experience first-hand:


‘The regiment was not required to charge but spent the day under fire from roundshot, shell and canister. We were surrounded by the dead and the dying. On two occasions I went to expect the faces of the cuirassiers in my company and see which of them were brave. I was proud of them and told them so there and then. Upon going over to see a young officer, Monsieur de Gramont, who was behaving well, I saw some terrible things. He was telling me that he had nothing to complain about, but that he would appreciate a glass of water, when, no sooner had we finished talking, a roundshot came over and cut him in two.’


A Saxon officer noted that ‘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.’ But the French and allied cavalry soon had more to do. As Eugene had seen off Uvarov, the French were again preparing an attack on the Great Redoubt – a final, convulsive attempt to smash the Russian centre. Eugene drew up his infantry, supported by the Poles of the Vistula Legion, behind a mass of heavy cavalry. These horsemen were to punch their way through the enemy position. Barclay, lacking cavalry himself, prepared his Russians for the coming onslaught. Watier’s division charged around the left flank of the Redoubt with General Caulaincourt, at the head of the 5th Cuirassiers, attempting to storm into the rear of the redoubt; Caulaincourt fell, dying a death ‘worthy of envy’ according to Napoleon, and the cuirassiers were beaten off. General Lorge was next to attempt the bloody mission; his German and Polish heavy cavalry spurred their mounts forwards before being raked by musketry and artillery fire. The cavalry pushed into the redoubt just as Eugene’s infantry clambered up the slope in front of the Russian position and up into the earthworks. A Russian onlooker described the scene:


‘Swords, bayonets, helmets and cuirasses all gleamed in the fading sunlight. It was a terrifying yet majestic sight. We were positioned close to Gorki village and were witness to the entire bloody scene; our cavalry were locked in combat with the enemy’s and they shot, slashed and lunged at each other from all sides. The French came right up against our earthworks and, after a final discharge, our guns fell silent. A cry went up and we knew that the enemy had got into the position and that both sides would get busy with their bayonets.’


A Polish officer in the Vistula Legion, Heinrich von Brandt, also saw Eugene’s troops attack:


‘A terrible roar, coming from the mouths of thousands of men, drowned out the noise of the artillery which was now raking our columns. When the smoke cleared, we saw that the Great Redoubt had been taken and that the French cavalry were issuing from it to charge the retreating, but still uncowed, Russians.’


Eugene had triumphed and the key to the Russian position had fallen to the French. The French urged their cavalry forwards, launching a series of charges designed to crush the Russians as they fell back. It was a decisive moment. Had the Russians broken, the battle would have turned into a rout; however, despite their ordeal, they maintained a steady, sometimes in dense squares, taking up new positions before the French could seize the initiative. The Russians held the French cavalry at bay, but Barclay was almost taken prisoner:


‘The general had his horse wounded by a pistol shot; it bolted and galloped off. Some French lancers pursued him and he had difficulty in escaping. His staff were dispersed but fortunately Colonel Zakreffsky, Kachinzov, Sievers and myself managed to reach him just as the lancers were about to lunge at him with their weapons. Our situation was improved by the arrival of the Izoum Hussars.’


The center of the field degenerated into a massive, milling band of cavalry as both sides fed in hussars, cuirassiers and lancers. Infantry were crushed or ridden over, artillerymen dodged for cover. A Saxon officer, fighting for the French, left an account of the bloody battle between the cavalry:


The Russians opened up on us at 1,100 paces with canister. Our guns replied and thick billowing smoke obscured everything, only the flashes from the gun barrels could be seen. It was as though hell had opened its doors to us. The effect of the smoke was exacerbated by clouds of whirling dust. Suddenly the enemy’s guns fell silent; the smoke and dust subsided. I saw numerous regiments of cavalry throw themselves against the batteries in the redoubt and oblige the Russians to fall back. Then we ourselves were attacked by a regiment of Russian dragoons and had to fall back to the far side of a ravine. The dragoons disappeared all of a sudden and we were now witness to a mass of Russian cavalry advancing against us. Shells exploded above us and rounsdshot showered us with soil and dust. We were there for quarter of an hour at least and our ranks were considerably thinned. We begged our men to hold on just a little longer until some support came up. Suddenly the plain was covered with French cavalry, the closest to us were the grenadiers and cuirassiers. We were ordered to stay where we were and to support the French as they flung themselves against the enemy. We heard the enemy’s canister striking the cavalry’s cuirasses and helmets. They soon came up against the Russian cavalry and crossed swords; the enemy were forced to fall back but, in the meantime, his infantry had taken up strong positions from which it proved difficult to dislodge them.’


Now, surely, was the time for Napoleon to commit his reserve – the Imperial Guard. Idle onlookers to the fray, they had stood, resplendent, watching. Urged by subordinates to send them forwards, Napoleon had refused. It was his last reserve but, perhaps, Borodino was not to be his last battle of the campaign. The Guards remained motionless. Meanwhile the Russians were steadying their ranks close by the village of Gorki. Their artillery wreaked revenge on the men who had stormed the Great Redoubt, as Heinrich von Brandt remembered:


‘It was then that the terrible artillery duel, of which all historians speak, began. The redoubt, which to some extent sheltered us, was torn up by shot and shell. Shots soon began to fall amongst our ranks and our losses began to mount. The soldiers received the order to lie down whilst the officers “awaited death standing”, as Rachowitz put it. He had just finished speaking when we were both splashed by the blood and brains of a sergeant who had had his head blown off by a cannon-ball just as he had stood up to go and talk to a friend. The horrible stains on my uniform proved impossible to remove and I had them in my sight for the remainder of the campaign as a memento mori.’


Both sides were exhausted and, towards evening, the fighting subsided all along the line. Most troops collapsed, exhausted, where they stood. The Russians spent the time dispatching their wounded to Moscow, replenishing their ammunition and recovering. The French were amazed that, after the ordeal, they had not broken and fled. That evening, Roman Soltyk, attached to Imperial Headquarters, overheard a conversation between Marshal Ney and Murat:


[Murat] – ‘That was hard work. I’ve never been in a battle like it, especially for artillery fire. At Eylau both sides fired plenty of round-shot but here we were so close that it was almost always canister.’

[Ney] – ‘We haven’t finished yet; the enemy must have lost tremendously and we must have shaken his morale; we have to pursue and profit from our victory.’

[Murat] – ‘But they’ve withdrawn in good order.’

[Ney] – ‘Good God, how can that be after such a slaughter?’


The field of battle was a nightmare. Castellane and his fellow staff officers at Napoleon’s headquarters made themselves comfortable by using Russian corpses as benches. Others had a more chilling time. Heinrich von Brandt never forgot the scene which confronted him that evening:


‘We camped where we stood, surrounded by the dead and dying. We were completely without water and firewood but we did find oats, brandy and some other provisions in some of the dead Russians’ knapsacks. With some musket butts and splinters from a broken limber we managed to get a fire going and grill our house speciality – horse steaks. In order to make some soup we had to go down and get some water from the Kolotscha, one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

            In the shadows around each of the flickering fires, the agonised and tormented wounded began to gather until they far outnumbered us. They could be seen everywhere like ghostly shadows moving in the half-light, creeping towards the glow of the fire. Some, horrifically mutilated, used the last of their strength to do so. They would suddenly collapse and die, with their imploring eyes fixed on the flames.’


Fantin des Odoards, of the Imperial Guard, also outlines the fate of those unable to fend for themselves:


‘The Russians had managed to bury their dead and those of their wounded who had died alongside the road. It is sobering to reflect that these people, whom we looked down upon as less-civilised, show far more concern for their wounded, and respect for their dead, than we proud Frenchmen. We leave our wounded to die from want and only bury those corpses which get in our way. As for our neglect of enemy wounded fallen into our hands, it is beyond comprehension. Countless of these unfortunates expired on ground soaked with their blood; their pleas and supplications leaving our troops, heartless passers-by, unmoved. Those who survived now showed stoicism; unable to move or crawl away, they wrapped themselves in their greatcoats and awaited their fate with resignation.’


Some of the wounded were lucky enough to be treated. French and Russian surgeons worked throughout the night. Surgeon La Flize of the Imperial Guard was feverishly at work at a field hospital:


‘The stretcher-bearers scurried off to the field of battle … and soon came back with artillerymen who had been hit by enemy projectiles. We can to work on the most seriously wounded. We had candles mounted by the operating table and this allowed us to perform even delicate operations. As soon as we were finished, the wounded were taken into the larger tent and given soup and wine. Beef had been prepared especially for members of the Guard; the rest of the army had to make do.

            It would be impossible to describe the horrible groans and cries as we cut through bone and nerves, closing up arteries and being sprayed by blood. Indeed we were literally plunged into blood, despite our best attempts to staunch its flow.’


That dreadful night effectively put an end to the fighting. There were some false alarms and Cossack raids, but peace, of a kind, reigned. The Russians had suffered most casualties – 43,000 men dead, wounded or missing and although some of the missing rejoined later, and 20,000 of the wounded recovered within seven months, Kutuzov had lost a third of his effectives in a single day. Twenty-three generals had been killed and wounded and the most serious loss of all was Prince Bagration, who succumbed to wounds seven days after the battle. Napoleon’s losses are harder to estimate and he never truthfully reported them. Evidence suggests that some 40,000 French and allied soldiers were killed or wounded and forty-nine generals were hit. Many of the regiments at the forefront of the action were completely shattered. Fouquet, of the 30th Line, wrote that his unit ‘had suffered greatly and that our five battalions had been reduced to two after the battle. Our general of division [Count Morand], general of brigade, colonel and major had been wounded; three majors and 16 officers killed and 52 wounded; and I hardly dare mention the loss amongst the soldiers.’


Junot’s Westphalians were given the task of burying the dead and disposing of the wounded. The corpses of the French and their allies were taken to huge pits and buried en masse. The Russian corpses were left on the field of battle. Suckow later commented that if you didn’t know where Borodino was, all you had to do was follow your nose – the stench of decaying flesh was horrific. Napoleon would cross this fatal field again but, for the moment, pushed on to seize Moscow in triumph. Or so he thought. On the 14th, the French army stood before the ancient city of the Czars, and looked down in awe on the shimmering domes and roofs of an imperial city. Kutuzov had resolved to save his army and had pulled back to the south-east, allowing the French to enter Moscow whilst preserving his troops for another day. A week later most of that city had been reduced to smouldering ash.

            Borodino was not the decisive victory Napoleon desired. Although it allowed the emperor to enter Moscow, and to claim that Borodino was a triumph, Moscow itself proved an illusory prize. Peace was not forthcoming. The French occupied Moscow, sapped and shaken. Summer turned to autumn and they chose to quit. Their retreat began and the Russians, having recovered from their loss and sensing that the Grand Army was no longer the force it had been on 7 September, pursued. The pursuit continued and 18 months later they marched into Paris.