On This Day in Napoleonic History – 7 September 1812

18The Battle of Borodino

Borodino was the bloodiest single day battle in the history of warfare until the twentieth century. It was a major engagement during Napoleon’s Russian campaign fought under the walls of Moscow. ‘Soldiers, here is the battle that you have so long desired,’ Napoleon declared in his proclamation. On the eve of the battle he told General Jean Rapp, ‘Fortunate is a liberal mistress. I often said so and now begin to experience it. This poor army is much reduced, but what remains of it is good. My guard besides is untouched.’ Just before the battle, Napoleon exclaimed, ‘It’s a little cold but here comes a nice sun. It’s the sun of Austerlitz.’ Although Borodino was technically a French victory, it was far from the triumph Austerlitz had been.

The Russian general Pyotr Bagration was mortally wounded during the battle. Under the cover of darkness, Kutuzov withdrew, having suffered an immense number of casualties, probably around 43,000. The Russian commander promptly wrote to the Tsar, claiming a glorious victory. His claim was false. After all, Napoleon remained in the possession of the field of battle and was able to advance to Moscow. However, the French Emperor failed to gain the decisive victory he needed, partly because of his reluctance to deploy his Old Guard to pursue the Russians. In that sense, both commanders had lost Borodino. Kutuzov was unsuccessful at protecting Moscow and Napoleon did not destroy the Russian army as he absolutely had to in order to force Emperor Alexander to the negotiating table. ‘I’m reproached for not getting myself killed at Waterloo,’ Napoleon later said at Saint Helena. ‘I think I ought rather to have died at the Battle of the Moskova.’

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