Russia: The Battle of Borodino Lives On

In September 1812, France's Napoleon Bonaparte faced Russian Imperial General Mikhail Kutuzov at the Battle of Borodino. After 200 years, through the works of artists such as Leo Tolstoy (as well as legal disputes about the historic preservation of the battlefield), Borodino continues to inspire passion and incite controversy.

Recently, RuNet Echo examined the historical and modern contexts of Russia's victory in the Napoleonic Wars. In this post, we continue that study, focusing closely on the Battle of Borodino.

Napoleon I on the Borodino Heights, by Vasily Vereshchagin (1897), public domain.

Napoleon's Blog describes the strategic significance of the Battle of Borodino as follows:

The Battle of Borodino (Russian: Бородинская битва Borodinskaja bitva, French: Bataille de la Moskowa, fought on September 7, 1812, was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the Napoleonic Wars, involving more than 250,000 troops and resulted in at least 70,000 total casualties. The French Grande Armée under Emperor Napoleon I attacked the Imperial Russian army of General Mikhail Kutuzov near the village of Borodino, west of the town of Mozhaysk, and eventually captured the main positions on the battlefield, but it failed to destroy the Russian army.

The battle itself ended in disengagement, but strategic considerations and the losses incurred forced the Russians to withdraw next day. The battle at Borodino was a pivotal point in the campaign, since it was the last offensive action fought by Napoleon in Russia. By withdrawing, the Russian army preserved its military potential and eventually forced Napoleon out of the country.

Travel website's blog describes how Borodino's grounds are preserved today (protecting the site of World War II battles, as well):

Located in the Mozhaysky District of Russia’s Moscow Oblast, the village of Borodino is indelibly etched in Russian history as the location of two devastating battles. The historic Borodino battlefield is a protected area that has been preserved as a reminder of the two history-shaping conflicts that took place there, firstly between Russia and France in 1812, and later between Soviet and German military forces in 1941. Within the protected area is the State Borodino War and History Museum chronicling these conflicts in detail, while the former battlefield is scattered with memorials and monuments as reminders of specific events and influential figures relating to both wars.

Russian LiveJournal blogger paluch675 provides [ru] photographs of Tsar Nicholas II and his family at the 1912 celebration honoring the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, featuring images of the following events:

Император Николай II, императрица Александра Федоровна с дочерьми и сопровождающие их лица проходят по перрону железнодорожного вокзала по прибытии на станцию Бородино для участия в торжествах. Второй справа — барон В. Б. Фредерикс. Бородино, 25 августа 1912 года.

Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, and their daughters, with others accompanying, walking along the train station's platform, after arriving in Borodino in order to participate in festivities. Second from the right — Baron V. B. Fredericks. Borodino, 25 August 1912.

Крестный ход к памятнику Бородинской битвы во время торжеств в деревне Бородино, 25 августа 1912 года.

The procession to the Battle of Borodino Monument, during the festivities at Borodino village, 25 August 1912.

In a 2008 post, Russian History Blog discussed some of the more recent celebrations honoring the Battle of Borodino:

People from all over the country and overseas, particularly from France come to this historical event. These people are big fans of history. This celebration took place in 1962. In 1995 it got a status of a historic military fest. During its 190 anniversary in 2002 300 thousand people gathered.

In anticipation of this year's celebration honoring the 200th anniversary, both RuNet and Anglophone bloggers have reported on protracted legal disputes between historical site preservationists and developers. In May 2011, Russia Profile went so far as to announce “The Third Battle of Borodino.” In April 2012, the Kremlin intervened against illegal housing developments around the historical site of the Borodino battlefield.

Borodino's cultural legacy is not confined to the physical location of the battle — indeed, it lives on in a variety of art forms.

In a post titled, “The Battle of Borodino (A Painting to Remember),” Justin's Systema Blog describes an exhibit found in Moscow's Napoleonic War Museum:

It was an amazing painting, with details of the battle painstakingly captured with the precision of the artist. You could see everything. Hundreds of men on horseback charging each other with sabres drawn, while their comrades on both sides loaded their muskets and fired at each other. Cannons aimed at the opposing armies with smoke covering the battlefield. In addition to the mural which was very large, small huts had been constructed on dirt surrounding the artwork in order to replicate the scene of the battle. There was even a recording which would play in the background; the sound of the trumpet signalling a cavalry charge, followed by the sound of galloping horses, cannon and gunfire. The effect was incredibly impressive.

Finally, summarizing the historical significance of Borodino, Historical and Regency Romance UK blog quotes Napoleon Bonaparte himself:

Although the Russians were beaten they were not completely defeated and Napoleon later said of the encounter: “The French showed themselves to be worthy victors and the Russians can rightly call themselves invincible.”


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