Borodino, Battle of
BORODINO, BATTLE OF
Borodino was the climactic battle of the Campaign of 1812, which took place on September 7. Napoleon had invaded Russia hoping to force a battle near the frontier, but he pursued when the Russian armies retreated. His efforts to force a decisive battle at Smolensk having failed, Napoleon decided to advance toward Moscow, hoping to force the Russian army, now under the command of Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, to stand and fight. Pressed hard by Tsar Alexander to do so, Kutuzov selected the field near the small village of Borodino, some seventy miles west of Moscow, for the battle. He concentrated his force, divided into two armies under the command of Generals Peter Bagration and Mikhail Barclay de Tolly, and constructed field fortifications in preparation for the fight.
Napoleon eagerly seized upon Kutuzov's stand and prepared for battle. Napoleon's normal practice would have been to try to turn one of the flanks of the Russian army, which Kutuzov had fortified. Mindful of the Russians' retreat from Smolensk when he had tried a similar maneuver, Napoleon rejected this approach in favor of a frontal assault. The extremely bloody battle that ensued centered around French attempts to seize and hold Kutuzov's field fortifications, especially the Rayevsky Redoubt. The battle was a stalemate militarily, although Kutuzov decided to abandon the field during the night, continuing his retreat to Moscow.
Borodino was effectively a victory for the Russians and a turning point in the campaign. Napoleon sought to destroy the Russian army on the battlefield and failed. Kutuzov had aimed only to preserve his army as an effective fighting force, and he succeeded. Napoleon's subsequent seizure of Moscow turned out to be insufficient to overcome the devastating attrition his army had suffered. Russia's losses were, nevertheless, very high, and included Bagration, wounded on the field, who died from an infection two weeks later.
See also: french war of 1812; kutuzov, mikhail ilarionovich; napoleon i
Frederick W. Kagan