Battle of Borodino

Battle of Borodino
Part of the French invasion of Russia
Battle of Borodino 1812.png
Battle of Moscow, 7th September 1812, 1822
by Louis-François Lejeune
Date7 September 1812
LocationBorodino, Russia
55°31′N 35°49′E / 55°31′N 35°49′E / 55.517; 35.817
ResultFrench tactical victory[3]
Napoleon captures Moscow


Russian Empire Russian Empire[2]
Commanders and leaders
130,000–190,000 men
587 guns[4]
120,000–160,000 men
624 guns
Casualties and losses
28,000–35,000 dead, wounded and captured[5]
[6](inc. 47 generals, 480 officers)
40,000–45,000 dead, wounded, and captured[6][7] (inc. 23 generals, 211 officers)

The Battle of Borodino (Russian: Бороди́нское сраже́ние, tr. Borodínskoye srazhéniye; French: Bataille de la Moskova) was a battle fought on 7 September 1812[8] in the Napoleonic Wars during the French invasion of Russia.

The fighting involved around 250,000 troops and left at least 70,000 casualties, making Borodino the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon's Grande Armée launched an attack against the Russian army, driving it back from its initial positions but failing to gain a decisive victory. Both armies were exhausted after the battle and the Russians withdrew from the field the following day. Borodino represented the last Russian effort at stopping the French advance on Moscow, which fell a week later. However, the French had no clear way of forcing Tsar Alexander to capitulate because the Russian army was not decisively defeated, resulting in the ultimate defeat of the French invasion following the retreat from Moscow in October.

After a series of Russian retreats at the beginning of the campaign, the nobility grew alarmed about the advancing French troops and forced the Tsar to dismiss the army's commander, Barclay de Tolly. Mikhail Kutuzov was appointed as his replacement. In a final attempt to save Moscow, the Russians made a stand near the village of Borodino, west of the town of Mozhaysk. They fortified their positions and waited for the French to attack. The Russian right wing occupied ideal defensive terrain, so the French tried to press the Russian left for much of the battle.

The highlight of the fighting became the bloody struggle for the large Raevsky redoubt near the village of Borodino. The French managed to capture this redoubt late into the day, gradually forcing the rest of the Russian army to pull back as well. The Russians suffered terrible casualties during the fighting, losing over a third of their army. French losses were also heavy, exacerbating the logistical difficulties that Napoleon encountered in the campaign. The exhaustion of the French forces, and the lack of information on the condition of the Russian army, persuaded Napoleon to remain on the battlefield with his army instead of ordering the kind of vigorous pursuit reminiscent of previous campaigns.[9]

Napoleon's Imperial Guard, the only unit on the battlefield that saw no fighting, was available to swing into action at a moment's notice. In refusing to commit the Guard, some historians believe, he lost his one chance to destroy the Russian army and to win the campaign.[10]

The capture of Moscow proved a pyrrhic victory, since the Russians had no intention of negotiating with Napoleon for peace. The French evacuated Russia's spiritual capital in October and conducted a difficult retreat that lasted until December, by which point the remainder of the Grande Armée had largely unraveled. Historical reports of the battle differed significantly depending on whether they originated from supporters of the French or Russian side. Factional fighting among senior officers within each army also led to conflicting accounts and disagreements over the roles of particular officers.


Napoleon's invasion of Russia

The French Grande Armée began its invasion of Russia on 16 June 1812. In response, Emperor Alexander I proclaimed a "Patriotic War" and prepared to face the French. According to the plan of German general Karl Ludwig von Phull, the Russian troops under the command of Count Michael Barclay de Tolly had to face the Grande Armée in the Vilnius region; the remaining troops under general Pyotr Bagration would launch an attack to the French southern flank and rear. However, Phull's plan soon proved to be a serious mistake, as the enormous Grande Armée was more than enough to separate and crush both Russian armies at the same time. Furthermore, the participation of Tsar Alexander I as commander caused more chaos in the Russian army. The Russian forces which were massed along the Polish frontier were obliged to fall back in the face of the swift French advance.[11]

Napoleon I on the Borodino Heights, by Vasily Vereshchagin (1897)

Napoleon advanced from Vitebsk, hoping to catch the Russian army in the open where he could annihilate it.[12] The French army was not positioned well for an extended overland campaign; it was 925 km (575 mi) from its nearest supply base at Kovno (Kaunas). French supply lines were vulnerable and Cossacks, light cavalry, guerrilla forces and even French deserters attacked and seriously depleted French supply columns.[13] The central French force under Napoleon's direct command had crossed the Niemen with 286,000 men but by the time of the battle was reduced to 161,475, mostly through starvation and disease.[14] Nonetheless, the prospect of a decisive battle lured Napoleon deeper into Russia and further stretched his supply lines.[citation needed]

Infighting between Barclay's subordinates repeatedly prevented the Russian commander from committing his forces to battle.[15] Barclay's fellow generals and the Russian court viewed the constant retreat as a reluctance to fight; consequently, he was removed from command and replaced by Prince Mikhail Kutuzov on 29 August 1812.[16] Although the 67-year-old General Kutuzov was not seen by his contemporaries as the equal of Napoleon,[17] he possessed the ability to muster a good defence.[18] He was favoured over Barclay because he was Russian whereas Barclay was of Scottish descent and officers subordinate to Barclay could accept Kutuzov, thereby uniting the army.[19] On 18 August Kutuzov arrived at Tsaryovo-Zaymishche to greet the army.[20]

After taking over the army, Kutuzov organized a strong rearguard under the command of General Konovnytsyn and then ordered the army to prepare for battle. Kutuzov understood that Barclay's decision to retreat was correct, but the Russian troops could not accept further retreat. A battle had to occur in order to preserve the morale of the soldiers.[11] The new commander had still not managed to establish a defensive position when the armies were within 125 kilometres (78 mi) of Moscow. He then ordered another retreat to Gzhatsk (Gagarin) on 30 August, by which time the ratio of French to Russian forces had shrunk from 3:1 to 5:4.[21] The time to fight had arrived.[11]

Napoleon's Grande Armée made its final approach to Moscow from the WSW along the Smolensk Roads with the Moscow River on its left flank. A defensive line was established in the best available position along this path before Moscow near the village of Borodino.[22] Although the Borodino field was too open and had too few natural obstacles to protect the Russian center and the left flank, it was chosen due to the protection provided by the Kolocha river, because it blocked both Smolensk–Moscow roads and because there were simply no better locations.[11] Starting on 3 September, Kutuzov strengthened the line with earthworks, including the Raevski Redoubt in the center-right of the line and three open, arrow-shaped "Bagration flèches" (named after Pyotr Bagration) on the left.[23]

Battle of Shevardino Redoubt

The initial Russian position, which stretched south of the new Smolensk Highway (Napoleon's expected route of advance), was anchored on its left by a pentagonal earthwork redoubt erected on a mound near the village of Shevardino.[24] The Russian generals soon realized that their left wing was too exposed and vulnerable.[11] So the Russian line was moved back from this position, but the Redoubt remained manned, Kutuzov stating that the fortification was manned simply to delay the advance of the French forces. Historian Dmitry Buturlin reports that it was used as an observation point to determine the course of the French advance. Historians Witner and Ratch, and many others, reported it was used as a fortification to threaten the French right flank, despite being beyond effective reach of guns of the period.[25]

The Chief of Staff of the Russian 1st Army, Aleksey Yermolov, related in his memoirs that the Russian left was shifting position when the French Army arrived sooner than expected; thus the Battle of Shevardino became a delaying effort to shield the redeployment of the Russian left. The construction of the redoubt and its purpose is disputed by historians to this day.[26]

The conflict began on September 5 when Marshal Joachim Murat's French forces met Konovnitzyn's Russians in a massive cavalry clash, the Russians eventually retreating to the Kolorzkoi Cloister when their flank was threatened. Fighting resumed the next day but Konovnitzyn again retreated when Viceroy Eugène de Beauharnais' Fourth Corps arrived, threatening his flank. The Russians withdrew to the Shevardino Redoubt, where a pitched battle ensued. Murat led Nansouty's First Cavalry Corps and Montbrun's Second Cavalry Corps, supported by Compans's Division of Louis Nicolas Davout's First Infantry Corps against the redoubt. Simultaneously, Prince Josef Poniatowski's Polish infantry attacked the position from the south. Fighting was heavy and very fierce, as the Russians refused to retreat until Kutuzov personally ordered them to do so.[11] The French captured the redoubt, at a cost of 4,000–5,000 French and 6,000 Russian casualties.[27] The small redoubt was destroyed and covered by the dead and dying of both sides.[28]

The unexpected French advance from the west and the fall of the Shevardino redoubt threw the Russian formation into disarray. Since the left flank of their defensive position had collapsed, Russian forces withdrew to the east, constructing a makeshift position centered around the village of Utitsa. The left flank of the Russian position was thus ripe for a flanking attack.[citation needed]

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: Borodino döyüşü
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Барадзінская бітва
čeština: Bitva u Borodina
Bahasa Indonesia: Pertempuran Borodino
lietuvių: Borodino mūšis
Nederlands: Slag bij Borodino
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Borodino jangi
slovenščina: Bitka pri Borodinu
српски / srpski: Бородинска битка
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Bitka kod Borodina
татарча/tatarça: Бородино бәрелеше
українська: Бородінська битва
Tiếng Việt: Trận Borodino