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Chapter 1

  • Napoleon began the war with Russia because he could not resist going t_resden, could not help having his head turned by the homage he received,
  • could not help donning a Polish uniform and yielding to the stimulatin_nfluence of a June morning, and could not refrain from bursts of anger in th_resence of Kurakin and then of Balashev.
  • Alexander refused negotiations because he felt himself to be personall_nsulted. Barclay de Tolly tried to command the army in the best way, becaus_e wished to fulfill his duty and earn fame as a great commander. Rosto_harged the French because he could not restrain his wish for a gallop acros_ level field; and in the same way the innumerable people who took part in th_ar acted in accord with their personal characteristics, habits,
  • circumstances, and aims. They were moved by fear or vanity, rejoiced or wer_ndignant, reasoned, imagining that they knew what they were doing and did i_f their own free will, but they all were involuntary tools of history,
  • carrying on a work concealed from them but comprehensible to us. Such is th_nevitable fate of men of action, and the higher they stand in the socia_ierarchy the less are they free.
  • The actors of 1812 have long since left the stage, their personal interest_ave vanished leaving no trace, and nothing remains of that time but it_istoric results.
  • Providence compelled all these men, striving to attain personal aims, t_urther the accomplishment of a stupendous result no one of them at al_xpected—neither Napoleon, nor Alexander, nor still less any of those who di_he actual fighting.
  • The cause of the destruction of the French army in 1812 is clear to us now. N_ne will deny that that cause was, on the one hand, its advance into the hear_f Russia late in the season without any preparation for a winter campaig_nd, on the other, the character given to the war by the burning of Russia_owns and the hatred of the foe this aroused among the Russian people. But n_ne at the time foresaw (what now seems so evident) that this was the only wa_n army of eight hundred thousand men—the best in the world and led by th_est general—could be destroyed in conflict with a raw army of half it_umerical strength, and led by inexperienced commanders as the Russian arm_as. Not only did no one see this, but on the Russian side every effort wa_ade to hinder the only thing that could save Russia, while on the Frenc_ide, despite Napoleon's experience and so-called military genius, ever_ffort was directed to pushing on to Moscow at the end of the summer, that is,
  • to doing the very thing that was bound to lead to destruction.
  • In historical works on the year 1812 French writers are very fond of sayin_hat Napoleon felt the danger of extending his line, that he sought a battl_nd that his marshals advised him to stop at Smolensk, and of making simila_tatements to show that the danger of the campaign was even then understood.
  • Russian authors are still fonder of telling us that from the commencement o_he campaign a Scythian war plan was adopted to lure Napoleon into the depth_f Russia, and this plan some of them attribute to Pfuel, others to a certai_renchman, others to Toll, and others again to Alexander himself- pointing t_otes, projects, and letters which contain hints of such a line of action. Bu_ll these hints at what happened, both from the French side and the Russian,
  • are advanced only because they fit in with the event. Had that event no_ccurred these hints would have been forgotten, as we have forgotten th_housands and millions of hints and expectations to the contrary which wer_urrent then but have now been forgotten because the event falsified them.
  • There are always so many conjectures as to the issue of any event that howeve_t may end there will always be people to say: "I said then that it would b_o," quite forgetting that amid their innumerable conjectures many were t_uite the contrary effect.
  • Conjectures as to Napoleon's awareness of the danger of extending his line,
  • and (on the Russian side) as to luring the enemy into the depths of Russia,
  • are evidently of that kind, and only by much straining can historian_ttribute such conceptions to Napoleon and his marshals, or such plans to th_ussian commanders. All the facts are in flat contradiction to suc_onjectures. During the whole period of the war not only was there no wish o_he Russian side to draw the French into the heart of the country, but fro_heir first entry into Russia everything was done to stop them. And not onl_as Napoleon not afraid to extend his line, but he welcomed every step forwar_s a triumph and did not seek battle as eagerly as in former campaigns, bu_ery lazily.
  • At the very beginning of the war our armies were divided, and our sole aim wa_o unite them, though uniting the armies was no advantage if we meant t_etire and lure the enemy into the depths of the country. Our Emperor joine_he army to encourage it to defend every inch of Russian soil and not t_etreat. The enormous Drissa camp was formed on Pfuel's plan, and there was n_ntention of retiring farther. The Emperor reproached the commanders in chie_or every step they retired. He could not bear the idea of letting the enem_ven reach Smolensk, still less could he contemplate the burning of Moscow,
  • and when our armies did unite he was displeased that Smolensk was abandone_nd burned without a general engagement having been fought under its walls.
  • So thought the Emperor, and the Russian commanders and people were still mor_rovoked at the thought that our forces were retreating into the depths of th_ountry.
  • Napoleon having cut our armies apart advanced far into the country and misse_everal chances of forcing an engagement. In August he was at Smolensk an_hought only of how to advance farther, though as we now see that advance wa_vidently ruinous to him.
  • The facts clearly show that Napoleon did not foresee the danger of the advanc_n Moscow, nor did Alexander and the Russian commanders then think of lurin_apoleon on, but quite the contrary. The luring of Napoleon into the depths o_he country was not the result of any plan, for no one believed it to b_ossible; it resulted from a most complex interplay of intrigues, aims, an_ishes among those who took part in the war and had no perception whatever o_he inevitable, or of the one way of saving Russia. Everything came abou_ortuitously. The armies were divided at the commencement of the campaign. W_ried to unite them, with the evident intention of giving battle and checkin_he enemy's advance, and by this effort to unite them while avoiding battl_ith a much stronger enemy, and necessarily withdrawing the armies at an acut_ngle—we led the French on to Smolensk. But we withdrew at an acute angle no_nly because the French advanced between our two armies; the angle becam_till more acute and we withdrew still farther, because Barclay de Tolly wa_n unpopular foreigner disliked by Bagration (who would come his command), an_agration—being in command of the second army—tried to postpone joining up an_oming under Barclay's command as long as he could. Bagration was slow i_ffecting the junction—though that was the chief aim of all a_eadquarters—because, as he alleged, he exposed his army to danger on thi_arch, and it was best for him to retire more to the left and more to th_outh, worrying the enemy from flank and rear and securing from the Ukrain_ecruits for his army; and it looks as if he planned this in order not to com_nder the command of the detested foreigner Barclay, whose rank was inferio_o his own.
  • The Emperor was with the army to encourage it, but his presence and ignoranc_f what steps to take, and the enormous number of advisers and plans,
  • destroyed the first army's energy and it retired.
  • The intention was to make a stand at the Drissa camp, but Paulucci, aiming a_ecoming commander in chief, unexpectedly employed his energy to influenc_lexander, and Pfuel's whole plan was abandoned and the command entrusted t_arclay. But as Barclay did not inspire confidence his power was limited. Th_rmies were divided, there was no unity of command, and Barclay was unpopular;
  • but from this confusion, division, and the unpopularity of the foreig_ommander in chief, there resulted on the one hand indecision and th_voidance of a battle (which we could not have refrained from had the armie_een united and had someone else, instead of Barclay, been in command) and o_he other an ever-increasing indignation against the foreigners and a_ncrease in patriotic zeal.
  • At last the Emperor left the army, and as the most convenient and indeed th_nly pretext for his departure it was decided that it was necessary for him t_nspire the people in the capitals and arouse the nation in general to _atriotic war. And by this visit of the Emperor to Moscow the strength of th_ussian army was trebled.
  • He left in order not to obstruct the commander in chief's undivided control o_he army, and hoping that more decisive action would then be taken, but th_ommand of the armies became still more confused and enfeebled. Bennigsen, th_sarevich, and a swarm of adjutants general remained with the army to keep th_ommander in chief under observation and arouse his energy, and Barclay,
  • feeling less free than ever under the observation of all these "eyes of th_mperor," became still more cautious of undertaking any decisive action an_voided giving battle.
  • Barclay stood for caution. The Tsarevich hinted at treachery and demanded _eneral engagement. Lubomirski, Bronnitski, Wlocki, and the others of tha_roup stirred up so much trouble that Barclay, under pretext of sending paper_o the Emperor, dispatched these Polish adjutants general to Petersburg an_lunged into an open struggle with Bennigsen and the Tsarevich.
  • At Smolensk the armies at last reunited, much as Bagration disliked it.
  • Bagration drove up in a carriage to to the house occupied by Barclay. Barcla_onned his sash and came out to meet and report to his senior office_agration.
  • Despite his seniority in rank Bagration, in this contest of magnanimity, too_is orders from Barclay, but, having submitted, agreed with him less tha_ver. By the Emperor's orders Bagration reported direct to him. He wrote t_rakcheev, the Emperor's confidant: "It must be as my sovereign pleases, but _annot work with the Minister (meaning Barclay). For God's sake send m_omewhere else if only in command of a regiment. I cannot stand it here.
  • Headquarters are so full of Germans that a Russian cannot exist and there i_o sense in anything. I thought I was really serving my sovereign and th_atherland, but it turns out that I am serving Barclay. I confess I do no_ant to."
  • The swarm of Bronnitskis and Wintzingerodes and their like still furthe_mbittered the relations between the commanders in chief, and even less unit_esulted. Preparations were made to fight the French before Smolensk. _eneral was sent to survey the position. This general, hating Barclay, rode t_isit a friend of his own, a corps commander, and, having spent the day wit_im, returned to Barclay and condemned, as unsuitable from every point o_iew, the battleground he had not seen.
  • While disputes and intrigues were going on about the future field of battle,
  • and while we were looking for the French—having lost touch with them—th_rench stumbled upon Neverovski's division and reached the walls of Smolensk.
  • It was necessary to fight an unexpected battle at Smolensk to save our line_f communication. The battle was fought and thousands were killed on bot_ides.
  • Smolensk was abandoned contrary to the wishes of the Emperor and of the whol_eople. But Smolensk was burned by its own inhabitants-who had been misled b_heir governor. And these ruined inhabitants, setting an example to othe_ussians, went to Moscow thinking only of their own losses but kindling hatre_f the foe. Napoleon advanced farther and we retired, thus arriving at th_ery result which caused his destruction.