War And Peace

CHAPTER III

Chinese

THE RUSSIAN ARMY was commanded by Kutuzov and his staff and by the Tsar from Petersburg. Before the news of the abandonment of Moscow had reached Petersburg a detailed plan of the whole campaign had been drawn up and sent to Kutuzov for his guidance. In spite of the fact that this plan had been made on the supposition that Moscow was still in our hands, it was approved by the staff, and accepted as the plan to be carried out. Kutuzov simply wrote that directions from a distance were always difficult to carry out. And to solve any difficulties that might arise, fresh instructions were sent, together with newer persons, whose duty it was to be to keep a watch on his movements, and to report upon them.

Apart from these new authorities, the whole staff of generals in the Russian army was now transferred. The places of Bagration, who had been killed, and Barclay, who had taken offence and retired, had to be filled. The question was deliberated with the greatest seriousness: whether A should be put in B's place, and B in the place of D, or whether, on the other hand, D in A's place, and so on, as though the matter affected anything whatever except the satisfaction of A and B and D.

In consequence of Kutuzov's hostility to the head officer of his staff, Bennigsen, and the presence of confidential advisers of the Tsar, and these various new appointments, the struggle of parties at headquarters was even more complicated than usual. A was trying to undermine B's position, D to undermine C's position, and so on, in all the possible combinations and permutations. In all these conflicting currents the object of intrigue was for the most part the management of the war, which all these men supposed they were controlling, though it did, in fact, follow its inevitable course quite apart from their action, a course that never corresponded with their schemes, but was the outcome of the forces interacting in the masses. All these schemes, thwarting and stultifying one another, were simply accepted in the higher spheres as the correct reflection of what was bound to come to pass.

“Prince Mihail Ilarionovitch!” the Tsar wrote on the 2nd of October, a letter received by Kutuzov after the battle of Tarutino. “From the 2nd of September Moscow has been in the hands of the enemy. Your last reports were dated the 20th; and in the course of all this time since, no attempt has been made to act against the enemy, and to relieve the ancient capital, and you have even, from your last reports, retreated further. Serpuhov is by now occupied by a detachment of the enemy, and Tula, with its famous arsenal, of such importance to the army, is in danger. From the reports received from General Wintzengerode, I see that a corps of the enemy, ten thousand strong, is marching along the Petersburg road. Another, numbering some thousands, is already close upon Dmitrov. A third is advancing along the Vladimir road. A fourth force of considerable strength is stationed between Ruza and Mozhaisk. Napoleon himself was in Moscow on the 25th. In face of these facts, with the enemy's forces split up into these detached bodies, and Napoleon himself with his guards in Moscow, is it possible that the enemy's forces confronting you are too strong to permit of your acting on the offensive? One may, with far more probability, assume that you are being pursued by detachments, or at most a corps by far inferior to the army under your command. It would seem that taking advantage of these circumstances, you might with advantage have attacked forces inferior in strength to your army, and have destroyed them, or at least have forced them to retreat, and have kept in our hands a considerable part of the province now occupied by the enemy, and thereby have averted all danger from Tula and the other towns of the interior. You will be responsible, if the enemy is able to send a considerable body of men to Petersburg, to menace that capital, in which it has been impossible to keep any great number of troops; for with the army under your command, acting with energy and decision, you have ample means at your disposal for averting such a calamity. Recollect that you have still to answer to your humiliated country for the loss of Moscow. You have had experience of my readiness to reward you. That readiness is no less now, but Russia and I have the right to expect from you all the energy, decision, and success, which your intellect, your military talents, and the valour of the troops under your command should guarantee us.”

But while this letter, proving that the change in the relative strength of the armies was by now reflected in opinion at Petersburg, was on its road, Kutuzov had been unable to hold the army back, and a battle had already been fought.

On the 2nd of October, a Cossack, Shapovalov, out scouting, shot one hare and wounded a second. Shapovalov was led on in pursuit of the game far into the forest, and came across the left flank of Murat's army, which was encamped and quite off guard. The Cossack told his comrades with laughter the tale of how he had all but fallen into the hands of the French. The ensign, who heard the story, repeated it to his superior officer. The Cossack was sent for and questioned. The officers of the Cossacks wanted to take advantage of this to carry off some horses from the French, but one of them, who was intimate with some of the higher authorities in the army, mentioned the incident to a general on the staff. On the staff the position of late had been strained to the utmost. A few days previously, Yermolov had gone to Bennigsen and besought him to use his influence with the commander-in-chief to bring about an attack.

“If I did not know you, I should suppose you did not desire that result. I have only to advise one course for his highness to be sure to adopt the opposite one,” answered Bennigsen.

The news brought by the Cossack, confirmed by scouts, proved conclusively that the time was ripe. The strained string broke, and the wheels of the clock whirred, and the chimes began to strike. In spite of all his supposed power, his intellect, his experience, and his knowledge of men, Kutuzov, taking into consideration the note from Bennigsen, who was sending a personal report on the subject to the Tsar, the desire expressed by all the generals alike, the desire assumed by them to be the Tsar's wish, and the news brought by the Cossack, could hold back the inevitable movement no longer, and gave orders for what he regarded as useless and mischievous—gave his assent, in fact, to the accomplished fact.

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