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- War and Peace - 210/336 -
to prevent an enemy from advancing along the Smolensk road to Moscow.
Napoleon, riding to Valuevo on the twenty-fourth, did not see (as the history books say he did) the position of the Russians from Utitsa to Borodino (he could not have seen that position because it did not exist), nor did he see an advanced post of the Russian army, but while pursuing the Russian rearguard he came upon the left flank of the Russian position--at the Shevardino Redoubt--and unexpectedly for the Russians moved his army across the Kolocha. And the Russians, not having time to begin a general engagement, withdrew their left wing from the position they had intended to occupy and took up a new position which had not been foreseen and was not fortified. By crossing to the other side of the Kolocha to the left of the highroad, Napoleon shifted the whole forthcoming battle from right to left (looking from the Russian side) and transferred it to the plain between Utitsa, Semenovsk, and Borodino--a plain no more advantageous as a position than any other plain in Russia--and there the whole battle of the twenty-sixth of August took place.
Had Napoleon not ridden out on the evening of the twenty-fourth to the Kolocha, and had he not then ordered an immediate attack on the redoubt but had begun the attack next morning, no one would have doubted that the Shevardino Redoubt was the left flank of our and the battle would have taken place where we expected it. In that case we should probably have defended the Shevardino Redoubt--our left flank--still more obstinately. We should have attacked Napoleon in the center or on the right, and the engagement would have taken place on the twenty-fifth, in the position we intended and had fortified. But as the attack on our left flank took place in the evening after the retreat of our rear guard (that is, immediately after the fight at Gridneva), and as the Russian commanders did not wish, or were not in time, to begin a general engagement then on the evening of the twenty-fourth, the first and chief action of the battle of Borodino was already lost on the twenty-fourth, and obviously led to the loss of the one fought on the twenty-sixth.
After the loss of the Shevardino Redoubt, we found ourselves on the morning of the twenty-fifth without a position for our left flank, and were forced to bend it back and hastily entrench it where it chanced to be.
Not only was the Russian army on the twenty-sixth defended by weak, unfinished entrenchments, but the disadvantage of that position was increased by the fact that the Russian commanders--not having fully realized what had happened, namely the loss of our position on the left flank and the shifting of the whole field of the forthcoming battle from right to left--maintained their extended position from the village of Novoe to Utitsa, and consequently had to move their forces from right to left during the battle. So it happened that throughout the whole battle the Russians opposed the entire French army launched against our left flank with but half as many men. (Poniatowski's action against Utitsa, and Uvarov's on the right flank against the French, were actions distinct from the main course of the battle.) So the battle of Borodino did not take place at all as (in an effort to conceal our commanders' mistakes even at the cost of diminishing the glory due to the Russian army and people) it has been described. The battle of Borodino was not fought on a chosen and entrenched position with forces only slightly weaker than those of the enemy, but, as a result of the loss of the Shevardino Redoubt, the Russians fought the battle of Borodino on an open and almost unentrenched position, with forces only half as numerous as the French; that is to say, under conditions in which it was not merely unthinkable to fight for ten hours and secure an indecisive result, but unthinkable to keep an army even from complete disintegration and flight.
On the morning of the twenty-fifth Pierre was leaving Mozhaysk. At the descent of the high steep hill, down which a winding road led out of the town past the cathedral on the right, where a service was being held and the bells were ringing, Pierre got out of his vehicle and proceeded on foot. Behind him a cavalry regiment was coming down the hill preceded by its singers. Coming up toward him was a train of carts carrying men who had been wounded in the engagement the day before. The peasant drivers, shouting and lashing their horses, kept crossing from side to side. The carts, in each of which three or four wounded soldiers were lying or sitting, jolted over the stones that had been thrown on the steep incline to make it something like a road. The wounded, bandaged with rags, with pale cheeks, compressed lips, and knitted brows, held on to the sides of the carts as they were jolted against one another. Almost all of them stared with naive, childlike curiosity at Pierre's white hat and green swallow-tail coat.
Pierre's coachman shouted angrily at the convoy of wounded to keep to one side of the road. The cavalry regiment, as it descended the hill with its singers, surrounded Pierre's carriage and blocked the road. Pierre stopped, being pressed against the side of the cutting in which the road ran. The sunshine from behind the hill did not penetrate into the cutting and there it was cold and damp, but above Pierre's head was the bright August sunshine and the bells sounded merrily. One of the carts with wounded stopped by the side of the road close to Pierre. The driver in his bast shoes ran panting up to it, placed a stone under one of its tireless hind wheels, and began arranging the breech-band on his little horse.
One of the wounded, an old soldier with a bandaged arm who was following the cart on foot, caught hold of it with his sound hand and turned to look at Pierre.
"I say, fellow countryman! Will they set us down here or take us on to Moscow?" he asked.
Pierre was so deep in thought that he did not hear the question. He was looking now at the cavalry regiment that had met the convoy of wounded, now at the cart by which he was standing, in which two wounded men were sitting and one was lying. One of those sitting up in the cart had probably been wounded in the cheek. His whole head was wrapped in rags and one cheek was swollen to the size of a baby's head. His nose and mouth were twisted to one side. This soldier was looking at the cathedral and crossing himself. Another, a young lad, a fair-haired recruit as white as though there was no blood in his thin face, looked at Pierre kindly, with a fixed smile. The third lay prone so that his face was not visible. The cavalry singers were passing close by:
Ah lost, quite lost... is my head so keen, Living in a foreign land.
they sang their soldiers' dance song.
As if responding to them but with a different sort of merriment, the metallic sound of the bells reverberated high above and the hot rays of the sun bathed the top of the opposite slope with yet another sort of merriment. But beneath the slope, by the cart with the wounded near the panting little nag where Pierre stood, it was damp, somber, and sad.
The soldier with the swollen cheek looked angrily at the cavalry singers.
"Oh, the coxcombs!" he muttered reproachfully.
"It's not the soldiers only, but I've seen peasants today, too.... The peasants--even they have to go," said the soldier behind the cart, addressing Pierre with a sad smile. "No distinctions made nowadays.... They want the whole nation to fall on them--in a word, it's Moscow! They want to make an end of it."
In spite of the obscurity of the soldier's words Pierre understood what he wanted to say and nodded approval.
The road was clear again; Pierre descended the hill and drove on.
He kept looking to either side of the road for familiar faces, but only saw everywhere the unfamiliar faces of various military men of different branches of the service, who all looked with astonishment at his white hat and green tail coat.
Having gone nearly three miles he at last met an acquaintance and eagerly addressed him. This was one of the head army doctors. He was driving toward Pierre in a covered gig, sitting beside a young surgeon, and on recognizing Pierre he told the Cossack who occupied the driver's seat to pull up.
"Count! Your excellency, how come you to be here?" asked the doctor.
"Well, you know, I wanted to see..."
"Yes, yes, there will be something to see...."
Pierre got out and talked to the doctor, explaining his intention of taking part in a battle.
The doctor advised him to apply direct to Kutuzov.
"Why should you be God knows where out of sight, during the battle?" he said, exchanging glances with his young companion. "Anyhow his Serene Highness knows you and will receive you graciously. That's what you must do."
The doctor seemed tired and in a hurry.
"You think so?... Ah, I also wanted to ask you where our position is exactly?" said Pierre.
"The position?" repeated the doctor. "Well, that's not my line. Drive past Tatarinova, a lot of digging is going on there. Go up the hillock and you'll see."
"Can one see from there?... If you would..."
But the doctor interrupted him and moved toward his gig.
"I would go with you but on my honor I'm up to here"--and he pointed to his throat. "I'm galloping to the commander of the corps. How do matters stand?... You know, Count, there'll be a battle tomorrow. Out of an army of a hundred thousand we must expect at least twenty thousand wounded, and we haven't stretchers, or bunks, or dressers, or doctors enough for six thousand. We have ten thousand carts, but we need other things as well--we must manage as best we can!"
The strange thought that of the thousands of men, young and old, who had stared with merry surprise at his hat (perhaps the very men he had
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