7 September 1812 marks the Battle of Borodino in Napoleon Bonaparte’s Russian invasion when his 86,000 French, German & Polish infantry & 28,000 cavalries defeated Field Marshal Prince Mikhail Kutuzov’s 72,000 Russian infantry & 17,500 cavalries. Kutuzov had steadily fallen back before Napoleon. Tsar Aleksandr, I demanded battle. Kutuzov built earthworks at Borodino. 3 arrow shaped fleches guarded his center-left. The Raevski redoubt guarded his center-right. The Shevardino redoubt initially held his left. Judging it too exposed, he fell back, leaving 20,000 men under Gorchakov to cover him. On 5 September Murat attacked with Nansouty’s I & Montbrun’s II Cavalry Corps & Davout’s I Infantry Corps. At dusk, Gorchakov retreated on Kutuzov’s orders. The fight cost 4-5,000 French & 6,000 Russian casualties.
Shevardino’s fall unanchored Kutuzov’s left. On 7 September, his center earthworks arced from Moskva River on the right, running along the Kolocha tributary to Utitsa on the left. Thick woods fronted him. Borodino anchored his center. Further back, the Raevsky redoubt, 19 guns with a clear field of fire, covered it. Barclay de Tolly’s 1st Army (80,000 men) held the right. Pyotr Bagration’s 2nd Army (34,000 men) held the left. Despite pleading, Kutuzov didn’t move men from his right to cover his left. As such, the strongly fortified right held most of his men & artillery. The understrength & underserved left was very vulnerable. The fleches had shallow ditches, open embrasures & were too wide, exposing men inside. The Semyanovskaya battery gave cover.
Napoleon ordered Davout to assault the fleches head-on. Poniatowski would outflank Kutuzov’s left. At 06:00, a 102-gun Grand Battery fired on Kutuzov’s center. Compans’ division (20 battalions, 25e, 57e, 61e & 111e Ligne) attacked the south fleche. Dessaix’s div. (10 bns, 85e & 108e Ligne) attacked the north one. Massed artillery fired on them as they exited the woods, wounding both generals. Seeing the confusion, Davout personally led the 57e forward. His horse was killed under him. He fell so hard he was reported dead, but rose & led again. By 07:30, he took all 3 fleches. Bagration drove him out. Ney led the 24e, retaking them. Bagration requested Tolly’s aid. At 09:00, Tolly sent 3 Guards regiments, 8 grenadier battalions & 20 guns. Heavy smoke blinded both sides. Masses of corpses & wounded impeded movement.
Murat’s cavalry circled the fleches, charging Bagration’s infantry, who formed squares. Knorring’s (20 squadrons, Ekaterinoslav, Gluchov, Malaya Rus, Novgorod & Voyenny Orden Cuirassiers) & Neverovsky’s (12 bns, Odessa, Simbrisk, Tarnopol & Vilna Inf., 49th & 50th Jägers) divs. confronted him. 7 French assaults failed. Bagration personally led some attacks & was wounded at 11:00 by cannonball splinters, dying later. Knorring drove Murat to take cover behind the Wurttemberg Infantry. The Grand Battery shredded Tolly’s arriving reinforcements. By 11:30, Friant’s div. (17 bns, 15e Légère, 33e & 48e Ligne, Joseph Bonaparte Inf.) held the field. Without Bagration, Russian morale collapsed. Smoke hid their disordered withdrawal. Napoleon refused reinforcement requests, reluctant to commit the Imperial Guard.
Beauharnais’ IV Corps seized Borodino from the Guard Jägers. Advancing further, they lost cohesion & were driven back. Delzon’s div. (16 bns, 8e Légère, 84e, 92e & 106e Ligne, 1st Croats) garrisoned Borodino. IV Corps’ artillery drove the Russians back to Raevsky. Broussier’s (18e Légère, 9e, 35e & 53e Ligne, Joseph Bonaparte Inf.) & Morand’s (15 bns, 13e Légère, 17e & 30e Ligne) divs. crossed the Semyanovka, seizing Raevsky from Paskevitch’s div. (12 bns, Ladoga, Orel, Nivegorod & Poltava Inf., 5th & 42nd Jägers). Yermolov brought up 3 horse artillery batteries, blasting Raevsky’s open rear. The Uga Inf. & 2 Jäger regiments retook it in a bayonet charge. Seizing the Semyanovka heights, Ney & Davout set up a battery. Along with IV Corps’ artillery, they enfiladed the Russians. Tolly sent Eugen’s div. (12 bns, Krementchug, Minsk, Tobolsk & Volhynie Inf., 4th & 34th Jägers) to defend the redoubt. Sorbier’s French Imperial Guard artillery brought up 36 guns. A massive barrage devastated the Russian advance, described as “a walk into Hell.” Kutuzov, “in a trance,” didn’t send his own guns.
Earlier at 07:30, a patrol found a ford at the Kolocha river. 8,000 Russian cavalry crossed, circling Napoleon’s left, reaching Beauharnais’ rear just as he was ordering a new attack. Alarmed, he pulled IV Corps back. Without infantry, the Russians achieved little & retreated. They cost IV Corps 2 hours, letting Kutuzov reinforce Raevsky with Likhachov’s div. (12 bns, Butirsk, Schirvan, Tomsk & Ufa Inf., 19th & 40th Jägers). Montbrun, holding the gap from IV Corps’ retreat, took murderous artillery fire. At 14:00, Broussier’s, Morand’s & Girard’s (12 bns, 7e Légère, 12e, 21e & 127e Ligne) divs. attacked Raevsky. Chastel’s cavalry div. supported the left, Montbrun the right. Wathier’s div. (12 sqns, 5e, 8e & 10e Cuirassiers) attacked the Russian guns. Seeing IV Corps advance, Tolly massed men. French guns impeded this. Wathier died. Thielmann’s div. (10 sqns, Saxon Corps Guards, 14e Polish & Zastrow Cuirassiers) forced their horses through Raevsky’s embrasures. At 15:30, it fell.
Utitsa on Kutuzov’s left was a morass of tangled brush, dense forest & marshlands, held by Jägers & Tuchkov’s 3rd Infantry Corps, 23,000 men. Half were militia with pikes & axes. Poniatowski’s 10,000 men, well trained & eager, captured Utitsa. Tuchkov retook it at 08:00. Supported by Junot’s Westphalians, Poniatowski retook it. Tuchkov burned it as he left. Poniatowski nearly cut him off. Kutuzov sent Bagovut’s 2nd Corps & Konovnitsyn, halting Poniatowski. By 15:00, both armies were exhausted. Kutuzov began withdrawing. Bellard informed Napoleon that Kutuzov’s line was breached & the Moscow road clogged with fleeing men & wagons. 1 more push would destroy them. Marshals begged him to commit the Guard, the only fresh force available. Thousands would die but Russia would, too. Napoleon said, “I most definitely will not. I do not want to have it blown up. I am certain of winning the battle without its intervention.” He sent 400 guns to bombard Kutuzov’s rearguard, the Russian Guards, who stood firm, taking hideous casualties.
Kutuzov escaped. Napoleon lost 6,562 dead, 21,450 wounded, including 49 generals, & 13 guns. With food severely short, many wounded starved or expired later. Kutuzov lost 44,000 dead/wounded, including 22 generals, 1-200 captive & 15-60 guns. Borodino was the era’s bloodiest battle. Kutuzov’s retreat drew Napoleon’s mauled army further away from its supply bases. Moscow was abandoned & burned. Occupying it, Napoleon wasted 5 weeks waiting for a surrender. It never came. Low on munitions & supplies, he retreated. Kutuzov vengefully pursued him. Of Napoleon’s main force, only 10,000 crossed Russia’s border alive.