The Battle Of Borodino
Patrick Harris -I still haven't finished Post Captain, but this battle's 200th anniversary was on Sept. 7th, so I may as well do a post about it.
The Battle of Borodino was the single largest, and bloodiest, action of the Napoleonic Wars. More than 250000 men were involved and there was upwards of 75000 casualties, including at least 70 generals. Technically, this battle was a French victory, as they were the only ones left on the field at the end of the day, but they lost as much as a third of their troops. The Russian army under Kutuzov had retreated to fight another day. The Russians retreated past Moscow, leaving the city to be fired in the face of the advancing French. This battle was the last offensive action of the Grand Armée in Russia.
Napoleon had originally crossed the Nieman with 280000 men, but at the time of the battle he was reduced to 160000 men, through disease and also through starvation. The French supply lines were overstretched and vulnerable to attack by rampaging Cossacks and guerrilla forces. The Russian forces kept retreating, drawing Napoleon farther and farther into Russia, and making his supplies stretch even more. This tactic may have been on purpose by the Russians, who know that "General Mud" and "General Winter" are their best weapons.
The Russians were deployed in a very disorganised series of earthworks along the Muskova river. The French deployed, also in a very disorganised manner, against Prince Bagration on the left first. Kutosov protected the road to Moscow with his powerful first army, and its positions were virtually unassailable to the French. The battle began with a massive artillery barrage by the French. With the French attacking Bagration, he called on Barclay's first army for help. The smoke of the battle was blinding, with both French and Russian units moving forward only to be destroyed in a barrage of artillery, cavalry, muskets and bayonets. Units could barely move, as the field was so clogged with the dead and the dying.
The French captured the village of Borodino and the Ravesky redoubt in the Russian centre, the Russians quickly advanced with reinforcements which allowed them to retake the redoubt. At this point, a group of Cossacks discovered a ford across the Muskova, and their attack managed to delay the attack of the French IV Corps, a decisive factor in allowing the Russians to withdraw eventually.
At 2:00 pm, Napoleon renewed his attack on the Ravesky redoubt, despite heroic resistance against the shear power of the French attacks, it was taken by 3:30. The battle was now effectively over after Napoleon refused to commit the Imperial Guard. The Russian Guards held the Russian lines while the rest of their army retreated. The road to Moscow was now open.
After arriving in Moscow, Napoleon found the city abandoned and fired. He stayed there for five weeks, in an ever worsening supply situation, waiting for word of a Russian surrender. This surrender never came. He then decided to retreat. On the way his army was shattered by the Russian winter and the pursuing Russian army (the very one that had survived Borodino). Only 20000 men made it out of Russia.