“Day of Borodin”. What did the Russians fight for, and what did the French fight for?

Weekly “Argumenty i Fakty” No. 36. It's just tough 07/09/2022

210 years ago, on September 7, 1812, what the French still call the “Battle of Moscow”, and we at first often called the “Battle of Mozhaisk” took place.

It took time for the bloodiest one-day battle in the entire history of mankind to finally find its true name name «Battle of Borodino» finally established itself in Russia only a few years later. And in order to “Borodin's Day” became a day of military glory, and centuries have completely gone – the corresponding law was adopted in our country only in 1995.

Gallic slyness

From the French name a mile away it carries true Gallic slyness. The train of thought is clear: as soon as the “Battle of Moscow”, then the goal of the battle was precisely Moscow. What? More than 120 versts remain to the ancient Russian capital, and the Russian army is quite combat-ready? Think about the little things! Most importantly, the “Great Army” Napoleon still entered Moscow. And if so, then the French were the undoubted winners in that battle!

The reason for this was given by Napoleon himself – Bulletin 18 of the “Great Army” reports: “The enemy has lost all hope; the battle was over; The cannonade still continued, but this only strengthened the victory. Many generals and colonels were taken prisoner. The victory was not in doubt. The battle was won.

In 1816, the French emperor, already in the status of a prisoner on the island of St. Helena, dictated his memoirs: “The Battle of Moscow” my greatest battle is the battle of the giants. The Russians had 170,000 men under arms; they had all the advantages behind them: numerical superiority in infantry, cavalry, artillery, excellent position. They were defeated! True, a year later, the number of Russian troops suddenly increased: “With 80,000 army, I rushed at the Russians, who consisted of 250,000, armed to the teeth, and defeated them!”

Here it remains only to marvel at the boasting and remember Russian expression “after a fight, wave your fists.”

Russkaya Pravda

It is another matter that the same reproaches are addressed to the Russians. Say, the newspapers announced the victory of Russian weapons, and since then the idea has been established that ours won at Borodino.

But is it? Here are the words of Kutuzov, caught in the “Saint Petersburg Vedomosti” dated September 15, 1812: “The battle was general and lasted until nightfall. The loss on both sides is great. The troops of Your Imperial Majesty fought with incredible courage. Batteries passed from hand to hand, and it ended with the enemy nowhere gaining a single step of land with superior forces. And here is what did not get into the newspaper: “It is not about the glory of the battles won, but the whole goal is aimed at the extermination of the French army. Having spent the night on the battlefield, I took the intention to retreat»»

The report of the Russian commander-in-chief was edited for the newspaper by the hand of the sovereign himself. From which they conclude that the Russian Emperor Alexander Iin his desire to ascribe victory to himself is no better than the boasting Napoleon. At the same time, for some mysterious reason, they do not take into account that in the Russian press report there is not a word about “undoubted victory.” Yes, they missed something. But everything said – pure truth. By the evening of September 7, the Russian army really remained in its positions.

Who agrees to a medal?

And they rarely remember that the Russian emperor nevertheless expressed his opinion about the Battle of Borodino. Not directly, not in words. But so that it became clear to everyone – personally, he intends to adhere to the strictest rules of honor. This means that in no case will he, like the “Corsican upstart”, spread his tail and loudly declare a “glorious victory”. Moreover – will not let others do the same.

By that time, there was a tradition to perpetuate all won battles with a gold cross for officers or a silver medal for lower ranks. Alexander I did not break this tradition. The entire campaign of 1812 & ndash; 1814. was awarded with a single medal associated with a specific battle, – “For the capture of Paris.” This victory was indeed undeniable. Pay attention – neither Smolensk, nor Borodino, nor Maloyaroslavets, nor even Berezina, after which from the “Great Army” only a memory remained, the sovereign decided not to celebrate with special awards.

As for other awards, here everything is even more interesting. A month after the battle of Borodino, Kutuzov sent several reports to the sovereign, where he “asked” awards for those who stand out. A cursory glance at the lists of those presented for awards and at the status of the awards themselves shows that the commander-in-chief evaluates the Battle of Borodino as an unconditional victory. Say, three generals – Dmitry Dokhturov, Mikhail Miloradovich and Pyotr Konovnitsyn– Kutuzov considered worthy of the Order of St. George II degree. The reward is quite rare. And, most importantly, suggesting that the presented one showed not just personal courage, but military prowess…

Again, there was a tradition in the Russian army, according to which, after a battle won, the sovereign, examining the lists, shows his royal goodwill and in some cases makes “gracious amendments.” That is, it increases the rank of the requested awards by one or even two steps.

But Alexander I breaks this tradition – moreover, he does it defiantly and even rudely. Yes, he amends the award lists of generals and senior officers – with a total score of 16. All of them lower the rank of the reward. But they concern only those cases when the award involves military valor. For personal courage – please. For heroism – For God's sake. But the emperor does not want to hear about any military prowess under Borodino.

There is one exception. Mikhail Barclay de Tolly receives his Order of St. George II degree precisely for Borodino – so the sovereign appreciated his plan of the “Scythian war”, which allows him to avoid a premature general battle.

But here, too, Alexander makes a demonstrative gesture. Even Barclay has to wait for his order. The emperor has been delaying signing the award lists for almost a month. He signs them only when he receives specific news – a flying detachment of Russians entered Moscow, abandoned by the French. & nbsp;

“Not up to crosses”

It was impossible to speak more clearly about the Battle of Borodino. Heroism, courage, selflessness, contempt for death were shown on the battlefield? Undoubtedly! This emperor confirmed the status of awards. Was Borodino an important milestone in the implementation of the “Scythian war” strategy? But this was recognized by the sovereign only at the moment when Barclay's plan worked. When the “Grand Army” left Moscow and began to retreat.

The most interesting thing is that both Russian society and even the generals generally agreed with this assessment of the Battle of Borodino. For example, the good-natured Dmitry Dokhturov simply shrugged his shoulders: “Really, I care very little about this. Now there is no time for crosses when the Fatherland is in danger. But Aleksey Yermolov, famous for his unbearable ambition, admitted: “Serving in the front as an artillery officer, I could be known for courage alone, but one such in the rank of major general no longer satisfied” hellip; p>

Yes. Such is Russian honor. If victory – means victory. If defeat – well, we can accept that too. But lies are not allowed. And therefore, while recognizing that the Battle of Borodino from a military point of view should probably not be considered a draw victory, the Russians still insist – the victory was ours. And it was a victory for the spirit of the Russian soldier. The French greeted Borodin's day as a “day of new glory.” The Russians went to the field not for glory, but for death. Artillery lieutenant Nikolai Lyubenkov recalled: “We knew what we stood for, death had the same feeling for everyone” Own life became a burden: he rejoiced who threw it off, – he died for the sovereign, for Russia, for his relatives. This was recognized by honest people “on the other side.” The prefect of Napoleon's court Louis de Bosserecalled: “In whole lines, the Russian regiments lay prostrate on the bloody ground and this testified that they preferred to die than to retreat at least a step""" And this is the real military glory. 

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