When Ermolov, having been sent by Kutuzov to inspect the position, told th_ield marshal that it was impossible to fight there before Moscow and tha_hey must retreat, Kutuzov looked at him in silence.
"Give me your hand," said he and, turning it over so as to feel the pulse,
added: "You are not well, my dear fellow. Think what you are saying!"
Kutuzov could not yet admit the possibility of retreating beyond Mosco_ithout a battle.
On the Poklonny Hill, four miles from the Dorogomilov gate of Moscow, Kutuzo_ot out of his carriage and sat down on a bench by the roadside. A great crow_f generals gathered round him, and Count Rostopchin, who had come out fro_oscow, joined them. This brilliant company separated into several groups wh_ll discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the position, the state o_he army, the plans suggested, the situation of Moscow, and military question_enerally. Though they had not been summoned for the purpose, and though i_as not so called, they all felt that this was really a council of war. Th_onversations all dealt with public questions. If anyone gave or asked fo_ersonal news, it was done in a whisper and they immediately reverted t_eneral matters. No jokes, or laughter, or smiles even, were seen among al_hese men. They evidently all made an effort to hold themselves at the heigh_he situation demanded. And all these groups, while talking among themselves,
tried to keep near the commander in chief (whose bench formed the center o_he gathering) and to speak so that he might overhear them. The commander i_hief listened to what was being said and sometimes asked them to repeat thei_emarks, but did not himself take part in the conversations or express an_pinion. After hearing what was being said by one or other of these groups h_enerally turned away with an air of disappointment, as though they were no_peaking of anything he wished to hear. Some discussed the position that ha_een chosen, criticizing not the position itself so much as the menta_apacity of those who had chosen it. Others argued that a mistake had bee_ade earlier and that a battle should have been fought two days before. Other_gain spoke of the battle of Salamanca, which was described by Crosart, _ewly arrived Frenchman in a Spanish uniform. (This Frenchman and one of th_erman princes serving with the Russian army were discussing the siege o_aragossa and considering the possibility of defending Moscow in a simila_anner.) Count Rostopchin was telling a fourth group that he was prepared t_ie with the city train bands under the walls of the capital, but that h_till could not help regretting having been left in ignorance of what wa_appening, and that had he known it sooner things would have been different… .
A fifth group, displaying the profundity of their strategic perceptions,
discussed the direction the troops would now have to take. A sixth group wa_alking absolute nonsense. Kutuzov's expression grew more and more preoccupie_nd gloomy. From all this talk he saw only one thing: that to defend Mosco_as a physical impossibility in the full meaning of those words, that is t_ay, so utterly impossible that if any senseless commander were to give order_o fight, confusion would result but the battle would still not take place. I_ould not take place because the commanders not merely all recognized th_osition to be impossible, but in their conversations were only discussin_hat would happen after its inevitable abandonment. How could the commander_ead their troops to a field of battle they considered impossible to hold? Th_ower-grade officers and even the soldiers (who too reason) also considere_he position impossible and therefore could not go to fight, fully convince_s they were of defeat. If Bennigsen insisted on the position being defende_nd others still discussed it, the question was no longer important in itsel_ut only as a pretext for disputes and intrigue. This Kutuzov knew well.
Bennigsen, who had chosen the position, warmly displayed his Russia_atriotism (Kutuzov could not listen to this without wincing) by insistin_hat Moscow must be defended. His aim was as clear as daylight to Kutuzov: i_he defense failed, to throw the blame on Kutuzov who had brought the army a_ar as the Sparrow Hills without giving battle; if it succeeded, to claim th_uccess as his own; or if battle were not given, to clear himself of the crim_f abandoning Moscow. But this intrigue did not now occupy the old man's mind.
One terrible question absorbed him and to that question he heard no reply fro_nyone. The question for him now was: "Have I really allowed Napoleon to reac_oscow, and when did I do so? When was it decided? Can it have been yesterda_hen I ordered Platov to retreat, or was it the evening before, when I had _ap and told Bennigsen to issue orders? Or was it earlier still?… When, whe_as this terrible affair decided? Moscow must be abandoned. The army mus_etreat and the order to do so must be given." To give that terrible orde_eemed to him equivalent to resigning the command of the army. And not onl_id he love power to which he was accustomed (the honours awarded to Princ_rozorovski, under whom he had served in Turkey, galled him), but he wa_onvinced that he was destined to save Russia and that that was why, agains_he Emperor's wish and by the will of the people, he had been chosen commande_n chief. He was convinced that he alone could maintain command of the army i_hese difficult circumstances, and that in all the world he alone coul_ncounter the invincible Napoleon without fear, and he was horrified at th_hought of the order he had to issue. But something had to be decided, an_hese conversations around him which were assuming too free a character mus_e stopped.
He called the most important generals to him.
"My head, be it good or bad, must depend on itself," said he, rising from th_ench, and he rode to Fili where his carriages were waiting.