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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWar And Peace - Book Eleven: 1812 - Chapter 2
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War And Peace - Book Eleven: 1812 - Chapter 2 Post by :paulj93 Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :567

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War And Peace - Book Eleven: 1812 - Chapter 2

The forces of a dozen European nations burst into Russia. The
Russian army and people avoided a collision till Smolensk was reached,
and again from Smolensk to Borodino. The French army pushed on to
Moscow, its goal, its impetus ever increasing as it neared its aim,
just as the velocity of a falling body increases as it approaches
the earth. Behind it were seven hundred miles of hunger-stricken,
hostile country; ahead were a few dozen miles separating it from its
goal. Every soldier in Napoleon's army felt this and the invasion
moved on by its own momentum.

The more the Russian army retreated the more fiercely a spirit of
hatred of the enemy flared up, and while it retreated the army
increased and consolidated. At Borodino a collision took place.
Neither army was broken up, but the Russian army retreated immediately
after the collision as inevitably as a ball recoils after colliding
with another having a greater momentum, and with equal inevitability
the ball of invasion that had advanced with such momentum rolled on
for some distance, though the collision had deprived it of all its
force.

The Russians retreated eighty miles- to beyond Moscow- and the
French reached Moscow and there came to a standstill. For five weeks
after that there was not a single battle. The French did not move.
As a bleeding, mortally wounded animal licks its wounds, they remained
inert in Moscow for five weeks, and then suddenly, with no fresh
reason, fled back: they made a dash for the Kaluga road, and (after
a victory- for at Malo-Yaroslavets the field of conflict again
remained theirs) without undertaking a single serious battle, they
fled still more rapidly back to Smolensk, beyond Smolensk, beyond
the Berezina, beyond Vilna, and farther still.

On the evening of the twenty-sixth of August, Kutuzov and the
whole Russian army were convinced that the battle of Borodino was a
victory. Kutuzov reported so to the Emperor. He gave orders to prepare
for a fresh conflict to finish the enemy and did this not to deceive
anyone, but because he knew that the enemy was beaten, as everyone who
had taken part in the battle knew it.

But all that evening and next day reports came in one after
another of unheard-of losses, of the loss of half the army, and a
fresh battle proved physically impossible.

It was impossible to give battle before information had been
collected, the wounded gathered in, the supplies of ammunition
replenished, the slain reckoned up, new officers appointed to
replace those who had been killed, and before the men had had food and
sleep. And meanwhile, the very next morning after the battle, the
French army advanced of itself upon the Russians, carried forward by
the force of its own momentum now seemingly increased in inverse
proportion to the square of the distance from its aim. Kutuzov's
wish was to attack next day, and the whole army desired to do so.
But to make an attack the wish to do so is not sufficient, there
must also be a possibility of doing it, and that possibility did not
exist. It was impossible not to retreat a day's march, and then in the
same way it was impossible not to retreat another and a third day's
march, and at last, on the first of September when the army drew
near Moscow- despite the strength of the feeling that had arisen in
all ranks- the force of circumstances compelled it to retire beyond
Moscow. And the troops retired one more, last, day's march, and
abandoned Moscow to the enemy.

For people accustomed to think that plans of campaign and battles
are made by generals- as any one of us sitting over a map in his study
may imagine how he would have arranged things in this or that
battle- the questions present themselves: Why did Kutuzov during the
retreat not do this or that? Why did he not take up a position
before reaching Fili? Why did he not retire at once by the Kaluga
road, abandoning Moscow? and so on. People accustomed to think in that
way forget, or do not know, the inevitable conditions which always
limit the activities of any commander in chief. The activity of a
commander in chief does not all resemble the activity we imagine to
ourselves when we sit at case in our studies examining some campaign
on the map, with a certain number of troops on this and that side in a
certain known locality, and begin our plans from some given moment.
A commander in chief is never dealing with the beginning of any event-
the position from which we always contemplate it. The commander in
chief is always in the midst of a series of shifting events and so
he never can at any moment consider the whole import of an event
that is occurring. Moment by moment the event is imperceptibly shaping
itself, and at every moment of this continuous, uninterrupted
shaping of events the commander in chief is in the midst of a most
complex play of intrigues, worries, contingencies, authorities,
projects, counsels, threats, and deceptions and is continually obliged
to reply to innumerable questions addressed to him, which constantly
conflict with one another.

Learned military authorities quite seriously tell us that Kutuzov
should have moved his army to the Kaluga road long before reaching
Fili, and that somebody actually submitted such a proposal to him. But
a commander in chief, especially at a difficult moment, has always
before him not one proposal but dozens simultaneously. And all these
proposals, based on strategics and tactics, contradict each other.

A commander in chief's business, it would seem, is simply to
choose one of these projects. But even that he cannot do. Events and
time do not wait. For instance, on the twenty-eighth it is suggested
to him to cross to the Kaluga road, but just then an adjutant
gallops up from Miloradovich asking whether he is to engage the French
or retire. An order must be given him at once, that instant. And the
order to retreat carries us past the turn to the Kaluga road. And
after the adjutant comes the commissary general asking where the
stores are to be taken, and the chief of the hospitals asks where
the wounded are to go, and a courier from Petersburg brings a letter
from the sovereign which does not admit of the possibility of
abandoning Moscow, and the commander in chief's rival, the man who
is undermining him (and there are always not merely one but several
such), presents a new project diametrically opposed to that of turning
to the Kaluga road, and the commander in chief himself needs sleep and
refreshment to maintain his energy and a respectable general who has
been overlooked in the distribution of rewards comes to complain,
and the inhabitants of the district pray to be defended, and an
officer sent to inspect the locality comes in and gives a report quite
contrary to what was said by the officer previously sent; and a spy, a
prisoner, and a general who has been on reconnaissance, all describe
the position of the enemy's army differently. People accustomed to
misunderstand or to forget these inevitable conditions of a
commander in chief's actions describe to us, for instance, the
position of the army at Fili and assume that the commander in chief
could, on the first of September, quite freely decide whether to
abandon Moscow or defend it; whereas, with the Russian army less
than four miles from Moscow, no such question existed. When had that
question been settled? At Drissa and at Smolensk and most palpably
of all on the twenty-fourth of August at Shevardino and on the
twenty-sixth at Borodino, and each day and hour and minute of the
retreat from Borodino to Fili.

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When Ermolov, having been sent by Kutuzov to inspect the position,told the field marshal that it was impossible to fight there beforeMoscow and that they must retreat, Kutuzov looked at him in silence."Give me your hand," said he and, turning it over so as to feelthe pulse, added: "You are not well, my dear fellow. Think what youare saying!"Kutuzov could not yet admit the possibility of retreating beyondMoscow without a battle.On the Poklonny Hill, four miles from the Dorogomilov gate ofMoscow, Kutuzov got out of his carriage and sat down on a bench by theroadside. A great crowd of generals gathered
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