"It's not for nothing that the whole of Russia remembers ..."
We remember these words about "Borodin's Day" from childhood. But what kind of day was it, sung by Lermontov and sacredly kept in the memory of our people?
It was a day of unprecedented ferocity of a battle, a day of bloody funeral feast, in which the fate of our army, Moscow and Russia itself was decided; the day of the last breath.
Yes, this was not just a battle that could be placed among other battles of this or another war - it was an act of spiritual confrontation and self-sacrifice, in which the “arrogant will” of a foreign conqueror, who gathered “the twelve languages of Europe” under his banners and accustomed to victories, she challenged Russia for her honor and dignity and was defeated by the undaunted steadfastness and intrepid courage of the Russian army, which had won the laurels of invincibility here.
But to understand why the Battle of Borodino meant so much to us, and how it happened that so much was decided for us in this one battle, we will have to go back to the beginning of the war.
In 1812 the war began with the retreat of our armies. This retreat was proposed in advance and was in accordance with the plan adopted by Emperor Alexander on the eve of the war. In Russian historiography, this plan was called the “plan of Fuhl,” a Prussian general who served as a military adviser to Emperor Alexander.
The plan itself was kept in deep secrecy and was not brought to the attention of the commanders-in-chief of the armies - at least, Bagration, the commander-in-chief of the 2nd Army, did not know anything about it. This circumstance from the very beginning deprived the actions of our armies of a coordinated reaction to the enemy's invasion. Bagration lingered on the border, counting on the offensive actions of his army and failed to retreat in time, while Napoleon sent the 70th corps of Marshal Davout between the armies of Barclay and Bagration, which crashed between them and no longer allowed our armies to connect.
On June 19, i.e., a week after the start of the campaign, Napoleon confidently declared to General Balashov, who came to him in Vilna with “peaceful suggestions” from Emperor Alexander:
So from the very beginning, things in the theater of war took an unfavorable turn for us.
But on the 19th, in the "Northern Post", the government newspaper of that time, a statement of the sovereign appeared, which encouraged the public:
News from the army headquarters published in newspapers also maintained an optimistic mood. They reported that “the experiences of past battles and the position of our borders encourage us to prefer a defensive war to an offensive one, due to the great means prepared by the enemy on the banks of the Vistula”; that the sovereign, who was at that time with the 1st Army, “ordered his troops to unite” and that “the points of connection should be at some distance from the border, and especially when it has a considerable extent”; that “all the corps that were in front should turn to occupying the places assigned to them in advance; and this movement is now taking place”; that "there were some clashes in which the guards Cossacks distinguished themselves", and that, finally, it was decided "to avoid the main battle until Prince Bagration approaches the first army."
However, it was already difficult for Bagration to fulfill this - pressed from the flank by Davout's corps, and from the rear by the troops of the Westphalian king, he everywhere had superior enemy forces against him and, following the highest command "to avoid decisive battles with the strongest enemy", had to use all his military leadership to break free from the vise laid by Napoleon.
In affairs under Mir and under Romanov, he finally had the opportunity to satisfy his thirst for battle - the Cossacks of Ataman Platov, who were in the rearguard of Bagration’s army, inflicted a severe defeat on the Polish cavalry from the vanguard of the Westphalian king.
Yermolov responded to those events. Here our soldiers saw the first prisoners of Napoleon's army, who were escorted past their bivouacs.
- writes a participant in those events.
The retreat of the 1st Army was also accompanied by a number of encouraging news from the main apartment, which notified the public that “in one of the light battles, Count Orlov-Denisov took many in full, among whom is Count Octavius Segur”; that “seven squadrons of French cavalry with cannons were hotly repelled by the rearguard of the first army”; that “we captured the lieutenant colonel of the Wirtemberg service, Prince Hohenlohe Kirchberg, and thirty privates,” and “Major General Kulnev with a detachment of cavalry attacked part of the French cavalry and destroyed two regiments of it, capturing more than 100 people and a brigadier general.”
The public was expecting a quick battle and was encouraged by the news that all the corps of the 1st Army had finally reached the goal of their retreat - they had entered a fortified camp on the Dvina near Drissa, and now their “boiling courage”, held back by a “temporary and necessary retreat”, was ready to “stop daring step of the enemy. From here, according to the “Ful Plan,” our troops were supposed to take active action against the enemy and even give him a “decisive battle.”
The highest order for the troops, issued on June 27, the anniversary of the Battle of Poltava, recalled the glorious victory of their ancestors and called on them to follow their example. But these hopes were not destined to come true. In Drissa, “everyone’s eyes were opened that the army’s position was in the greatest danger,” because Bagration’s army was unable to break through to join the 1st Army, and, consequently, tactical interaction with it, on which the “Ful plan” and which was the only way to hope for the success of our actions against the enemy was now impossible.
On July 1, in a landowner's house near Drissa, Emperor Alexander assembled a military council, which recognized that the army's continued presence in the Drissa camp did not correspond to the current situation; it was decided to leave it and look for connections with Bagration in the direction of Polotsk and Vitebsk. The retreat continued out of necessity. To cover the roads to St. Petersburg, Wittgenstein’s corps was left between Drissa and Druya.
And here a circumstance is revealed that, it seems, was not immediately recognized in our main apartment - with the abandonment of the Drissky fortified camp, the battle with the enemy becomes, both in the eyes of the public and in the eyes of the army itself, an increasing necessity, the only one capable of justifying our retreat. Already on July 4, the sovereign wrote to the Chairman of the State Council and the Committee of Ministers, Count N.I. Saltykov:
Deciding on a general battle is just as delicate as refusing it. In both cases, you can easily open the road to St. Petersburg, but having lost the battle, it will be difficult to recover to continue the campaign.
We cannot even hope for negotiations, because Napoleon is looking for our destruction and expecting good from him is an empty dream. The only way to hope to overcome it is by continuing the war.”
It can be noted that Emperor Alexander at this time fears more for St. Petersburg than for Moscow - information reached him that by the end of August Napoleon was threatening to be in St. Petersburg and take from there to Paris a statue of Peter the Great as a trophy, just as he already entered with the hat and sword of Frederick the Great, a bronze chariot from the Brandenburg Gate and a bronze quadriga from St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. But the strategic thought of Emperor Alexander is already recognized:
This task puts the emperor Alexander before the need to "take care of the collection of new forces to help the active troops." On July 5, he instructs General Miloradovich to form a reserve corps of troops in Kaluga, which "should serve as the basis for the formation of a common large military militia."
The next day in Polotsk, the sovereign issues two manifestos - “Appeal to Moscow” and “On the gathering of new forces within the state against the enemy (the zemstvo militia).” This was already a turn towards the organization of a people’s war, that is, a war by forces not only of troops, but of the entire people with the arrival of the enemy:
In Polotsk, the sovereign leaves the army and goes to Moscow in order to, with his personal presence in “the heart of the empire, inspire minds and prepare them for new donations” in the name of saving the Fatherland. As he leaves, he says to Barclay:
Barclay will remain faithful to this covenant to the end.
So in history Moscow enters the Patriotic War of 1812, and the ancient Russian capital itself, along with the active army, becomes a place of attraction for the thoughts and feelings of all of Russia.
It was from Moscow at the beginning of the war that words of encouragement were heard from Emperor Alexander:
This was written by Count F. V. Rostopchin on June 11, 1812, that is, literally on the eve of the enemy invasion of Russia, and one cannot but be surprised at the prophetic meaning of his words. As the military governor of Moscow, he “saw very well that Moscow was setting an example for all of Russia, and tried with all his might to gain both the trust and love of its inhabitants. She should have served as a regulator, a beacon, a source of electric current. So he looked at his activities as the Moscow mayor - as a mission that he had to fulfill.
Emperor Alexander could not have made a better choice when appointing the mayor of Moscow, which in the plans of our command was called upon to “serve as the main repository from which methods and forces valid for war flow.” But Moscow itself was still far from realizing its sacrificial role.
Pyotr Andreevich Vyazemsky says:
At the beginning of the war, there were its supporters in society, but there were also opponents. It can be said in general that the opinion of the majority was neither greatly shocked nor frightened by this war, which mysteriously concealed within itself both those events and those historical destinies with which it later marked itself. In societies and in the English Club (I’m only talking about Moscow, where I lived) there were, of course, discussions, debates, rumors, arguments about what was happening, about our clashes with the enemy, about the constant retreat of our troops inside Russia. But all this did not leave the circle of ordinary conversations, due to similar circumstances.
There were even people who did not want or were not able to recognize the importance of what was happening almost in their eyes. I remember that to the soothing speeches of such gentlemen, one young man - it seems Matsnev - usually answered amusingly in Dmitriev's verse: "But no matter how you argue, Milovzor is already there."
But no one, and probably Matsnev himself, foresaw that this Milovzor-Napoleon would soon be here, that is, in Moscow. The thought of surrendering Moscow did not enter anyone’s head or heart at that time.
From the arrival of the sovereign in Moscow, the war took on the character of a people's war. All hesitation, all perplexity disappeared; everything, so to speak, has hardened, hardened and animated in one conviction, in one holy feeling, that it is necessary to defend Russia and save it from enemy invasion.”
The culmination of Emperor Alexander I's stay in Moscow was his meeting on July 15 with the Moscow nobility and merchants in the Slobodsky Palace. The Emperor found here such warm support, such a unanimous response to his “call of one and all to defend the Fatherland against the enemy,” which even exceeded his expectations. The Moscow nobility “decided to gather in the Moscow province for the internal militia from 100 souls of 10 people, arming them if possible and providing them with clothing and provisions,” which in the end was supposed to amount to “80 thousand soldiers, uniformed and armed.”
In turn, the Moscow merchants,
The Emperor was so pleased with the result of his stay in Moscow that on the same day he wrote to the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Count N. I. Saltykov:
In a word, one cannot help but be moved to tears, seeing the spirit that animates everyone, and the zeal and readiness of everyone to contribute to the common good.”
But, in addition to the material side of the matter, there was something else here that Prince P. A. Vyazemsky was able to notice and express:
And indeed, the patriotic movement, which began in Moscow, spread to all the provinces of Central Russia. Donations poured in. There turned out to be so many of them that even “after the expenses incurred from them on collecting, moving, uniforming and maintaining temporary militias: Moscow, Tver, Yaroslavl, Vladimir, Ryazan, Tula, Kaluga and Smolensk, which made up the Moscow military force, there remained by December 30 1812 RUB 2 355½ kopecks.”
Completely satisfied with the result of his visit to Moscow, Emperor Alexander left the ancient capital on the night of July 18-19 and returned to St. Petersburg on July 22. He told the Empress Mother about the enthusiasm of Moscow and how Muscovites told him that if the French come, then “we take our images and leave, and are even ready to burn our houses.” But it is unlikely that, talking about this with enthusiasm, the sovereign could have imagined that the course of events would actually culminate in the burning of Moscow!
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