1812, Part 15

On October 28, 1812, the Grand Army began its retreat on the Borovsk road, closely tailed by the Russian vanguard and irregular Cossacks. The French passed Borovsk, Verey, Borisov and Mozhaisk, and arrived at Borodino. After the great battle here months earlier, the sight of the field was horrific, awe-inspiring.

Tuchkov’s widow on the Borodino field, by Nikolai Matveyev.

Requiem for General Tuchkov on the Borodino field, by Semyon Kozhin.

The Russian General Tuchkov had perished at Borodino, and his wife Margarita stumbled from corpse to corpse trying to identify his body. She was unsuccessful, and reconciled herself to building a chapel in memory of her husband.

Margarita Tuchkova, by Polina Mineyeva.

Czar Alexander I granted her funds to expand the chapel to commemorate the fallen dead. In 1820, a stone church would be built on the Borodino field and sanctified as the church of the Saviour.

View of Borodino field in the 1840s, by Louis Julien Jacottet.

The Grand Army was still so enormous that after its vanguard reached Vyazma on 31 October, the rearguard only arrived on November 3. At that point, it was attacked by Russian forces under Miloradovich. Napoleon despatched Marshal Ney to aid his troops, and a terrible battle ensued.

Battle of Vyazma, by Peter von Hess.

The French occupied the town and resolved to protect it, but after a bloody assault, the Russians were able to force them out. The losses on either side were immense.

The relief of Vyazma, by unknown artist.

The French retreat from Vyazma, by Albrecht Adam.

The weather was now turning for the worse. As the French continued their retreat, their command was still fairly confident. Morale among the troops fell steadily. Snow began to fall…

Napoleon on a white horse, by Jan Chełmiński.

Retreat from Russia, by Jan Chełmiński.

Marshal Ney and Napoleon during the Russian campaign, by Jan Chełmiński.

Kutuzov followed hotly on the trail of the enemy, intending to inflict as much damage as possible to Napoleon’s rearguard.

Cossacks attack the retreating French, by Édouard Detaille.

The Cossacks under Platov caught up with the Italian forces at the river Vop under Eugene de Beauharnais on November 9. The Russian artillery began firing, shredding the column. In the ensuing panic, soldiers ran helter-skelter to the bridge, along with carriages upon carriages of armament. The bridge collapsed. Amidst the confusion, the Cossacks were able to ford the river and attack the enemy from the front.

The Italians crossed the river and held back the Cossacks with rifle fire, but they were unable to rebuild the bridge, and continued to sustain heavy casualties under the Russian artillery. Beauharnais had to abandon nearly his entire goods train as he was unable to drag it up the steep banks of the river. His men died in countless numbers.

Eugene de Beauharnais saves his orderly from surrounding Cossacks, by Albrecht Adam.

Vitebsk had been retaken by the Russians. Hearing of this, Beauharnais was forced to head to Smolensk.

Scene from the Russo-French war, 1812, by Bogdan Willewalde.

At the same time as the battle upon the Vop, there was another brutal engagement near the village of Lyakhovo, where again the Russians were successful. They captured fifteen hundred cattle that were being led to feed Napoleon’s troops at Smolensk, besides nearly two thousand troops and officers.

Cossacks attack the retreating French, by John Augustus Atkinson.

[Translated excerpts from КНИЖКА С КАРТИНКАМИ.]

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