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.