Borodino, Russia (1812 AD)
The Battle of Borodino was the largest single-day battle of the Napoleanic Wars and one of the largest that Europe had seen in history up until that point. It pitted Napolean Bonaparte and the French Grand Army against a roughly equal Russian force, each with perhaps 150,000 or more men. Although a French victory which led directly to the capture of Moscow, the casualties on both sides were immense, and Napolean was not able to hold his gains for long. Because of this, the short-lived French victory at Borodino was considered the high-water mark of Napolean’s empire, and the turning point which ultimately led to his defeat at the Battle of Leipzig a century later.
In June of 1812, Napolean Bonaparte, emperor of France and one of the most brilliant military commanders in history, undertook a campaign to defeat his last major opponent on the European continent: Russia. Over a quarter of a million soldiers from France and her allies crossed into Russia bent on capturing Moscow before winter. Napolean, who had hitherto been undefeated, began to run into difficulties immediately.
The biggest problem was the logistical nightmare casued by Russia’s vast distances. The French supply lines were immense and subject to almost continual harassment by Russian raids. Desertion, especially among the allies, was rampant. Nevertheless the French, led personally by Napolean, drove relentlessly on the Russian capital seeking to bring the Russian army to heel.
After a series of skirmishes wherein the French took several advance Russian positions, the main battle was joined at Borodino in September. The Russians prepared a series of defensive earthwork redoubts, as well as taking advantage of heavy forests, to make their stand. But as the battle unfolded, the two sides simply charged each other in frontal assaults of unimaginable carnage. A Russian attempt to outflank the French with Cossacks and cavalry failed to break the impasse, but it did concern Napolean enough to cause repercussions later in the battle.
Eventually the Russian army broke off and began to desert the battlefield. Worried about the threat of another cavalry attack, Napolean did not pursue the retreating Russians and lost what was his only real chance to destroy the Russian army permanently. Although the French were victorious and the road to Moscow lay open, the Russian army remained intact; and while both sides received atrocious casualties, the Russians were ultimately able to recover while the French were not. This pyrrhic victory ultimately led to the end of Napolean’s Russia campaign and ultimately the Grand Army of France.
The Battle of Borodino, while technically a French victory, is accounted a Russian strategic and morale victory due to the damage inflicted on Napolean’s army. Because of this Borodino is an honored historical site in Russia. The battlefield, now located amid open, rolling farmland, is popular for military historians. The main site of interest is the Borodino memorial known as the Kutuzov Obelisk, in honor of the Russian commander who inflicted so much damage on the French during the campaign.
The Borodino battlefield sprawls all around the modern-day town of Borodino on the ancient road from Smolensk to Moscow, approximately 70 miles west of the latter. The battlefield and memorial are open sites. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.mircorp.com (official tourism website of Russia).