Battle of Borodino

Battle of Borodino
Also known as: La Moskowa
Arc de Triomphe: MOSCOW

September 7, 1812

Napoleon had led the Grande Armée deep into Russia in an attempt to destroy the Russian army, but each time he almost caught their army they slipped away and retreated deeper into Russian territory. However, in mid August Russian General Kutusov had been appointed as the new commander of the Russian forces and ordered to make a stand to attempt to prevent Napoleon's Grande Armée from reaching Moscow. At Borodino Kutusov's forces of about 120,000 soldiers converged and prepared defensive works. When Napoleon realized the major battle he had been seeking in Russia had finally arrived, many of his army corps converged on the area, forming a strength of about 133,000 soldiers. Complicating matters, Napoleon was ill and did not appear to be his usual energetic self. He did not come up with much of a plan, turning down Marshal Davout's advice of a flanking attack on the weaker Russian left and instead deciding upon a frontal attack. On the Russian side, after laying out the initial positions of the troops, Kutusov then mostly excused himself from the battle and left the decisions to his subordinates instead of coordinating the movements of the troops.

On September 7th, the French began their attack. Initially successful, the advance ground to a halt and both sides suffered significant casualties. A series of combats occurred as the French tried to take the Raevsky Redoubt but were unable to take and hold it. Then a movement of Russian cavalry on the northernmost edge of the battlefield stalled the next attacks as Prince Eugene's IV Corps was forced to pivot to fend off that threat. Once the Russian cavalry had been driven back, attacks on the Raevsky Redoubt resumed and eventually the French and their allies were successful in taking the position.

Map of the Battle of the Borodino

When the Russians were pushed back, they fell back in good order and sometimes counterattacked. Throughout the battle, Napoleon's marshals and generals repeatedly sent pleas for him to commit the Imperial Guard to deliver a decisive blow, but Napoleon refused and held them in reserve. He was worried about being so far from allied territory without a strong force remaining intact and unharmed, and so he refused to commit the Guard. Eventually the combatants were so exhausted by the fighting that they stopped trying to advance, only holding their positions and letting the artillery continue the battle.

By the end of the day the French had taken the original positions of the Russians, but the Russians were still a strong fighting force. Overnight, General Kutusov decided to retreat and allow the French to take Moscow. Napoleon was surprised that Tsar Alexander would allow Moscow to be taken, but Kutusov's army would live to fight another day. Napoleon had won a victory but it was a hollow one, as it would not bring about the end of the war as he hoped. Borodino was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire period in sheer numbers of casualties and rounds fired.


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Updated December 2022

© Nathan D. Jensen