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War And Peace 453

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War And Peace

Russian towns were left to him, and had not received a single reply to his repeated announcements of his wish to negotiate. In giving and accepting battle at Borodino, Kutuzov acted involuntarily and irrationally. But later on, to fit what had occurred, the historians provided cunningly devised evidence of the foresight and genius of the generals who, of all the blind tools of history were the most enslaved and involuntary. The ancients have left us model heroic poems in which the heroes furnish the whole interest of the story, and we are still unable to accustom ourselves to the fact that for our epoch histories of that kind are meaningless. On the other question, how the battle of Borodino and the preceding battle of Shevardino were fought, there also exists a definite and well-known, but quite false, conception. All the historians describe the affair as follows: The Russian army, they say, in its retreat from Smolensk sought out for itself the best position for a general engagement and found such a position at Borodino. The Russians, they say, fortified this position in advance on the left of the highroad (from Moscow to Smolensk) and almost at a right angle to it, from Borodino to Utitsa, at the very place where the battle was fought. In front of this position, they say, a fortified outpost was set up on the Shevardino mound to observe the enemy. On the twenty-fourth, we are told, Napoleon attacked this advanced post and took it, and, on the twenty-sixth, attacked the whole Russian army, which was in position on the field of Borodino. So the histories say, and it is all quite wrong, as anyone who cares to look into the matter can easily convince himself. The Russians did not seek out the best position but, on the contrary, during the retreat passed many positions better than Borodino. They did not stop at any one of these positions because Kutuzov did not wish to occupy a position he had not himself chosen, because the popular demand for a battle had not yet expressed itself strongly enough, and because Miloradovich had not yet arrived with the militia, and for many other reasons. The fact is that other positions they had passed were stronger, and that the position at Borodino (the one where the battle was fought), far from being strong, was no more a position than any other spot one might find in the Russian Empire by sticking a pin into the map at hazard. Not only did the Russians not fortify the position on the field of Borodino to the left of, and at a right angle to, the highroad (that is, the position on which the battle took place), but never till the twenty-fifth of August, 1812, did they think that a battle might be fought there. This was shown first by the fact that there were no entrenchments there by the twenty fifth and that those begun on the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth were not completed, and secondly, by the position of the Shevardino Redoubt. That redoubt was quite senseless in front of the position where the battle was accepted. Why was it more strongly fortified than any other post? And why were all efforts exhausted and six thousand men sacrificed to defend it till late at night on the twenty-fourth? A Cossack patrol would have sufficed to observe the enemy. Thirdly, as proof that the position on which the battle was fought had not been foreseen and that the Shevardino Redoubt was not an advanced post of that position, we have the fact that up to the twenty-fifth, Barclay de Tolly and Bagration were convinced that the Shevardino Redoubt was the left flank of the position, and that Kutuzov himself in his report, written in hot haste after the battle, speaks of the Shevardino Redoubt as the left flank of the position. It was much later, when reports on the battle of Borodino were written at leisure, that the incorrect and extraordinary statement was invented (probably to justify the mistakes of a commander in chief who had to be represented as infallible) that the Shevardino Redoubt was an advanced post--whereas in reality it was simply a fortified point on the left flank--and that the battle of Borodino was fought by us on an entrenched position previously selected, where as it was fought on a quite unexpected spot which was almost unentrenched. The case was evidently this: a position was selected along the river Kolocha--which crosses the highroad not at a right angle but at an acute angle--so that the left flank was at Shevardino,

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