MEANWHILE another column was to have fallen upon the French in the centre, but of this column Kutuzov was in command. He knew very well that nothing but muddle would come of this battle, begun against his will, and, as far as it was in his power, he held his forces back. He did not move.
Kutuzov rode mutely about on his grey horse, making languid replies to the suggestions for an attack.
“You can all talk about attacking, but you don't see that we don't know how to execute complicated manœuvres,” he said to Miloradovitch, who was begging to be allowed to advance.
“We couldn't take Murat alive in the morning, nor be in our places in time; now there's nothing to be done!” he said to another.
When it was reported to Kutuzov that there were now two battalions of Poles in the rear of the French, where according to the earlier reports of the Cossacks there had been none, he took a sidelong glance behind him at Yermolov, to whom he had not spoken since the previous day.
“Here they are begging to advance, proposing projects of all sorts, and as soon as you get to work, there's nothing ready, and the enemy, forewarned, takes his measures.”
Yermolov half closed his eyelids, and faintly smiled, as he heard those words. He knew that the storm had blown over him, and that Kutuzov would not go beyond that hint.
“That's his little joke at my expense,” said Yermolov softly, poking Raevsky, near him, with his knee.
Soon after that, Yermolov moved forward to Kutuzov and respectfully submitted:
“The time has not passed, your highness; the enemy has not gone away. If you were to command an advance? Or else the guards won't have a sight of smoke.”
Kutuzov said nothing, but when news was brought him that Murat's troops were in retreat, he gave orders for an advance; but every hundred paces he halted for three-quarters of an hour.
The whole battle was confined to what had been done by the Cossacks of Orlov-Denisov; the rest of the troops simply lost a few hundreds of men for nothing.
In consequence of this battle, Kutuzov received a diamond decoration; Bennigsen, too, was rewarded with diamonds and a hundred thousand roubles; and the other generals, too, received agreeable recognition according to their rank, and more changes were made on the staff.
“That's how things are always done among us, everything topsy-turvy!” the Russian officers and generals said after the battle of Tarutino; just as they say it nowadays, with an assumption that some stupid person had muddled everything, while we would have managed quite differently. But the men who speak like this either do not understand what they are talking of, or intentionally deceive themselves. Every battle—Tarutino, Borodino, Austerlitz—fails to come off as those who planned it expected it to do. That is inevitable.
An innumerable collection of freely acting forces (and nowhere is a man freer than on the field of battle, where it is a question of life and death) influence the direction taken by a battle, and that can never be known beforehand and never corresponds with the direction of any one force.
If many forces are acting simultaneously in different directions on any body, the direction of its motion will not correspond with any one of the forces, but will always follow a middle course, the summary of them, what is expressed in mechanics by the diagonal of the parallelogram of forces.
If in the accounts given us by historians, especially by French ones, we find that wars and battles appear to follow a definite plan laid down beforehand, the only deduction we can make from that is that these accounts are not true.
The battle of Tarutino obviously failed to attain the aim which Toll had in view: to lead the army into action in accordance with his disposition of the troops, or the aim which Count Orlov-Denisov may have had: to take Murat prisoner; or the aim of destroying at one blow the whole corps, which Benningsen and others may have entertained; or the aim of the officer who desired to distinguish himself under fire; or the Cossack, who wanted to obtain more booty than he did attain, and so on. But if we regard the object of the battle as what was actually accomplished by it, and what was the universal desire of all Russians (the expulsion of the French from Russia and the destruction of their army), it will be perfectly evident that the battle of Tarutino, precisely in consequence of its incongruities, was exactly what was wanted at that period of the campaign. It is difficult or impossible to imagine any issue of that battle more in accordance with that object than its actual result. With the very smallest effort, in spite of the greatest muddle, and with the most trifling loss, the most important results in the whole campaign were obtained—the transition was made from retreat to attack, the weakness of the French was revealed, and the shock was given which was all that was needed to put Napoleon's army to flight.