The forces of a dozen European nations burst into Russia. The Russian army an_eople avoided a collision till Smolensk was reached, and again from Smolens_o Borodino. The French army pushed on to Moscow, its goal, its impetus eve_ncreasing as it neared its aim, just as the velocity of a falling bod_ncreases as it approaches the earth. Behind it were seven hundred miles o_unger-stricken, hostile country; ahead were a few dozen miles separating i_rom its goal. Every soldier in Napoleon's army felt this and the invasio_oved on by its own momentum.
The more the Russian army retreated the more fiercely a spirit of hatred o_he enemy flared up, and while it retreated the army increased an_onsolidated. At Borodino a collision took place. Neither army was broken up,
but the Russian army retreated immediately after the collision as inevitabl_s a ball recoils after colliding with another having a greater momentum, an_ith equal inevitability the ball of invasion that had advanced with suc_omentum rolled on for some distance, though the collision had deprived it o_ll its force.
The Russians retreated eighty miles—to beyond Moscow—and the French reache_oscow and there came to a standstill. For five weeks after that there was no_ single battle. The French did not move. As a bleeding, mortally wounde_nimal licks its wounds, they remained inert in Moscow for five weeks, an_hen suddenly, with no fresh reason, fled back: they made a dash for th_aluga road, and (after a victory—for at Malo-Yaroslavets the field o_onflict again remained theirs) without undertaking a single serious battle,
they fled still more rapidly back to Smolensk, beyond Smolensk, beyond th_erezina, beyond Vilna, and farther still.
On the evening of the twenty-sixth of August, Kutuzov and the whole Russia_rmy were convinced that the battle of Borodino was a victory. Kutuzo_eported so to the Emperor. He gave orders to prepare for a fresh conflict t_inish the enemy and did this not to deceive anyone, but because he knew tha_he enemy was beaten, as everyone who had taken part in the battle knew it.
But all that evening and next day reports came in one after another o_nheard-of losses, of the loss of half the army, and a fresh battle prove_hysically impossible.
It was impossible to give battle before information had been collected, th_ounded gathered in, the supplies of ammunition replenished, the slai_eckoned up, new officers appointed to replace those who had been killed, an_efore the men had had food and sleep. And meanwhile, the very next mornin_fter the battle, the French army advanced of itself upon the Russians,
carried forward by the force of its own momentum now seemingly increased i_nverse proportion to the square of the distance from its aim. Kutuzov's wis_as to attack next day, and the whole army desired to do so. But to make a_ttack the wish to do so is not sufficient, there must also be a possibilit_f doing it, and that possibility did not exist. It was impossible not t_etreat a day's march, and then in the same way it was impossible not t_etreat another and a third day's march, and at last, on the first o_eptember when the army drew near Moscow—despite the strength of the feelin_hat had arisen in all ranks—the force of circumstances compelled it to retir_eyond Moscow. And the troops retired one more, last, day's march, an_bandoned Moscow to the enemy.
For people accustomed to think that plans of campaign and battles are made b_enerals—as any one of us sitting over a map in his study may imagine how h_ould have arranged things in this or that battle—the questions presen_hemselves: Why did Kutuzov during the retreat not do this or that? Why did h_ot take up a position before reaching Fili? Why did he not retire at once b_he Kaluga road, abandoning Moscow? and so on. People accustomed to think i_hat way forget, or do not know, the inevitable conditions which always limi_he activities of any commander in chief. The activity of a commander in chie_oes not all resemble the activity we imagine to ourselves when we sit at cas_n our studies examining some campaign on the map, with a certain number o_roops on this and that side in a certain known locality, and begin our plan_rom some given moment. A commander in chief is never dealing with th_eginning of any event- the position from which we always contemplate it. Th_ommander in chief is always in the midst of a series of shifting events an_o he never can at any moment consider the whole import of an event that i_ccurring. Moment by moment the event is imperceptibly shaping itself, and a_very moment of this continuous, uninterrupted shaping of events the commande_n chief is in the midst of a most complex play of intrigues, worries,
contingencies, authorities, projects, counsels, threats, and deceptions and i_ontinually obliged to reply to innumerable questions addressed to him, whic_onstantly conflict with one another.
Learned military authorities quite seriously tell us that Kutuzov should hav_oved his army to the Kaluga road long before reaching Fili, and that somebod_ctually submitted such a proposal to him. But a commander in chief,
especially at a difficult moment, has always before him not one proposal bu_ozens simultaneously. And all these proposals, based on strategics an_actics, contradict each other.
A commander in chief's business, it would seem, is simply to choose one o_hese projects. But even that he cannot do. Events and time do not wait. Fo_nstance, on the twenty-eighth it is suggested to him to cross to the Kalug_oad, but just then an adjutant gallops up from Miloradovich asking whether h_s to engage the French or retire. An order must be given him at once, tha_nstant. And the order to retreat carries us past the turn to the Kaluga road.
And after the adjutant comes the commissary general asking where the store_re to be taken, and the chief of the hospitals asks where the wounded are t_o, and a courier from Petersburg brings a letter from the sovereign whic_oes not admit of the possibility of abandoning Moscow, and the commander i_hief's rival, the man who is undermining him (and there are always not merel_ne but several such), presents a new project diametrically opposed to that o_urning to the Kaluga road, and the commander in chief himself needs sleep an_efreshment to maintain his energy and a respectable general who has bee_verlooked in the distribution of rewards comes to complain, and th_nhabitants of the district pray to be defended, and an officer sent t_nspect the locality comes in and gives a report quite contrary to what wa_aid by the officer previously sent; and a spy, a prisoner, and a general wh_as been on reconnaissance, all describe the position of the enemy's arm_ifferently. People accustomed to misunderstand or to forget these inevitabl_onditions of a commander in chief's actions describe to us, for instance, th_osition of the army at Fili and assume that the commander in chief could, o_he first of September, quite freely decide whether to abandon Moscow o_efend it; whereas, with the Russian army less than four miles from Moscow, n_uch question existed. When had that question been settled? At Drissa and a_molensk and most palpably of all on the twenty-fourth of August at Shevardin_nd on the twenty-sixth at Borodino, and each day and hour and minute of th_etreat from Borodino to Fili.