War And Peace

CHAPTER XXXIX

Chinese

SOME TENS OF THOUSANDS of men lay sacrificed in various postures and uniforms on the fields and meadows belonging to the Davidov family and the Crown serfs, on those fields and meadows where for hundreds of years the peasants of Borodino, Gorky, Shevardino, and Semyonovskoye had harvested their crops and grazed their cattle. At the ambulance stations the grass and earth were soaked with blood for two acres round. Crowds of men, wounded and unwounded, of various arms, with panic-stricken faces, dragged themselves, on one side back to Mozhaisk, on the other to Valuev. Other crowds, exhausted and hungry, were led forward by their officers. Others still held their ground, and went on firing.

Over all the plain, at first so bright and gay with its glittering bayonets and puffs of smoke in the morning sunshine, there hung now a dark cloud of damp mist and smoke and a strange, sour smell of saltpetre and blood. Storm clouds had gathered, and a drizzling rain began to fall on the dead, on the wounded, on the panic-stricken, and exhausted, and hesitating soldiers. It seemed to say: “Enough, enough; cease.… Consider. What are you doing?”

To the men on both sides, alike exhausted from want of food and rest, the doubt began to come whether they should still persist in slaughtering one another; and in every face could be seen hesitation, and in every heart alike there rose the question: “For what, for whom am I to slay and be slain? Slay whom you will, do what you will, but I have had enough!” This thought took shape towards evening in every heart alike. Any minute all those men might be horror-stricken at what they were doing, might throw up everything and run anywhere.

But though towards the end of the battle the men felt all the horror of their actions, though they would have been glad to cease, some unfathomable, mysterious force still led them on, and the artillerymen—the third of them left—soaked with sweat, grimed with powder and blood, and panting with weariness, still brought the charges, loaded, aimed, and lighted the match; and the cannon balls flew as swiftly and cruelly from each side and crushed human flesh, and kept up the fearful work, which was done not at the will of men, but at the will of Him who sways men and worlds.

Any one looking at the disorder in the rear of the Russian army would have said that the French had but to make one slight effort more and the Russian army would have been annihilated; and any one seeing the rear of the French army would have said that the Russians need but make a slight effort more and the French would be overthrown. But neither French nor Russians made that effort, and the flame of the battle burnt slowly out.

The Russians did not make this effort, because they were not attacking the French. At the beginning of the battle they merely stood on the road to Moscow, barring it to the French; and they still stood at the end of the battle as they had at the beginning. But even if it had been the aim of the Russians to drive back the French, they could not have made this final effort, because all the Russian troops had been routed; there was not a single part of the army that had not suffered in the battle, and the Russians, without being driven from their position, lost ONE HALF of their army.

For the French, with the memory of fifteen years of victories, with confidence in Napoleon's all-vanquishing genius, with the consciousness of having taken a part of the battlefield, of having only lost a fourth of their men, and of having a body of twenty thousand—the Guards— intact—it would have been an easy matter to make this effort. The French, attacking the Russian army with the object of driving it from its position, ought to have made this effort, because as long as the Russians still barred the way to Moscow, as before the battle, the aim of the French had not been attained, and all losses and exertions had been in vain. But the French did not make that effort. Some historians assert that if Napoleon had only let his Old Guard advance, the battle would have been gained. To talk of what might have happened if Napoleon had let his Guard advance is much the same as to talk of what would happen if spring came in autumn. That could not have been. Napoleon did not do so, not because he did not want to, but because it was impossible to do so. All the generals, officers, and soldiers of the French army knew that it was impossible to make this final effort, because the flagging spirit of the troops did not allow of it.

It was not Napoleon alone who had that nightmare feeling that the mighty arm was stricken powerless: all the generals, all the soldiers of the French army, those who fought and those who did not, after all their experiences of previous battles (when after one-tenth of the effort the enemy had always run), showed the feeling of horror before this foe, who, after losing ONE HALF of the army, still stood its ground as dauntless at the end as at the beginning of the battle. The moral force of the French, the attacking army, was exhausted. Not the victory, signalised by the capture of rags on the end of sticks, called flags, or of the ground on which the troops were standing, but a moral victory, that which compels the enemy to recognise the moral superiority of his opponent, and his own impotence, was won by the Russians at Borodino. The French invading army, like a ravening beast that has received its death-wound in its onslaught, felt its end near. But it could not stop, no more than the Russian army—of half its strength—could help retreating. After that check, the French army could still drag on to Moscow, but there, without fresh effort on the part of the Russian army, its ruin was inevitable, as its life-blood ebbed away from the deadly wound dealt it at Borodino. The direct consequence of the battle of Borodino was Napoleon's cause-less flight from Moscow, his return by the old Smolensk road, the ruin of the invading army of five hundred thousand men, and the downfall of the Napoleonic rule, on which, for the first time at Borodino, was laid the hand of a foe of stronger spirit.

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