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FROM RUSSIA (to Fager’s Island) WITH LOVE
Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow III, Esquire
*Click images below to view larger versions.
 FROM RUSSIA (to Fager’s Island) WITH LOVE
    Saturday, September 7, marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino. That piece of information raises several questions. Where is Borodino? Who fought there? Is it important? If so, why? What is the connection to Fager's Island? Patience, all will be made known in the coming paragraphs.
    By 1806, Napoléon was master of Western Europe. He had executed the Treaty of Tilsit with Czar Alexander I of Russia, which, essentially, divided Europe into Russian and French spheres of influence. However, by 1812, the arrangement had fallen apart, and Napoléon decided to invade the Russian Empire. The Russians call this "The Patriotic War." (World War II is known, in the former U.S.S.R., as "The Great Patriotic War").
    Although the invading force, known as La Grand Armée, is generally referred to as French, it was in reality an Allied Army.
    Napoléon detached the II Corps, commanded by Marshal Nicolas Oudinot, to guard his left flank, along the Baltic sea, and to threaten the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. The II Corps was mostly French, but also contained Bavarian, Swiss, Portuguese and Croatian soldiers, and numbered 37,000.
    Prince Eugéne de Beauharnais commanded the IV Corps, containing 54,500 Italian soldiers. General de Beauharnais was the son of the former Empress, Joséphine, by her first marriage. Napoleon had appointed him Viceroy of Italy, which General de Beauharnais administered for nine years. After Napoléon and Marshal Murat left the defeated Grand Armée, Prince Eugéne led the remnants back to Germany.
    The V Corps consisted of 45,500 Poles, commanded by Prince Józef Poniatowski. The Prince was a member of the Polish royal family and was made a Marshal on October 17, 1813, during the Battle of Leipzig and was killed in that battle the next day, still fighting with the Emperor.
    From Bavaria, in Germany, came the VI Corps containing 30,600 Bavarian soldiers commanded by General Laurent de Gouvion St. Cyr. For his accomplishments in the Russian Campaign, St. Cyr would be promoted to Marshal.
    The VII Corps numbered 24,600 Saxons from Germany, and was commanded by General Jean Louis Reynier.
    General Andoche Junot commanded 23,200 Westphalians, also from Germany, in the VIII Corps.
    The IX Corps contained 23,400 French, Polish and German troops divided into one division of each under the command of Marshal Claude Victor.
    The X Corps, commanded by Marshal Jacques Macdonald containing 32,500, mostly Prussian troops, laid siege to Riga, which today is the capital of Latvia.
    Prince Karl Philipp zu Schwarzenburg led 36,400 of his fellow Austrian soldiers in the XII Corps. Prince Schwarzenburg later commanded the Allied troops that defeated Napoléon at Leipzig.
    In addition, several regiments containing 16,000 Dutchmen, and three regiments of Portugese, were scattered throughout the remaining corps. There were also Swiss, Portugese, Spanish, and Prussian troops. The entire Grande Armée contained 614,000 infantry, 152,650 cavalry, and 1,266 cannon. Of this number, at least 250,000 were Allied troops.
    Russian forces were divided into three armies. The 1st Army of the West was commanded by Count Michael P. Barclay de Tolly and contained 126,000 infantry, 16,000 regular cavalry. and 10,000 Cossacks. The 2nd Army of the West numbered 40,000 infantry, 13,800 regular cavalry and 20,000 Cossacks, Bashkirs, and Tartars, under the command of Prince Pyotr Ivanovich Bagration from Georgia. The Army of the Reserve under General Count Alexander P. Tormassov contained 32,000 infantry, 11,200 cavalry and 800 Cossacks. The total of these forces, and the garrison of Riga and other scattered units, brought Russian strength, on its western border, to 238,000 infantry, 90,000 cavalry, and 1,200 cannon.
    The invasion of Russia began at 10:00 p.m. on June 23, 1812, when the lead elements of La Grande Armée crossed the Vistula River into Russia. The three Russian armies retreated hundreds of miles. Finally, the armies of de Tolly and Bagration joined together at Smolensk and on August 16, La Grande Armée attacked the fortified city. By August 19, the city was engulfed in flames set by Allied artillery, the Russians were again retreating, and the Emperor had still not been able to come to grips with the foe.
    Considering the vast space of Russia, the overwhelming numerical superiority of La Grande Armée, Napoléon's aura of invincibility, and the impending approach of winter, retreat was probably a good strategy. It certainly was not popular. So after Smolensk, the Czar appointed Prince Mikhail Ilarionovich Golenischev - Kutuzov to overall command of the combined Imperial armies. De Tolly and Bagration retained their individual commands. Kutuzov was 70 years old, had lost his right eye in battle against the Turks, and was the commander of the Russian Army that had been, along with the Austrian Army, defeated by Napoleon, at Austerlitz, seven years earlier.
    Kutuzov chose to make a stand at the little village of Borodino. Borodino is located 72 miles southwest of Moscow along the Moscow-Smolensk highway, at its intersection with the Kolocha River. When the Russians reached Borodino, they began constructing field fortifications. The most famous of these was the "Raevsky Redoubt" (a. k. a "Grand Redoubt"), named for General of the Infantry and commander of the Russian 7th Corps, Lt. Gen. Nickolay Nickolaevich Raevsky. It was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the battle.
    To the left of the Raevsky Redoubt were the "Bagration Fleches." These were three v-shaped structures staggered back in echelon. In front of the "Bagration Fleches" the Russians constructed the Shevardino Redoubt. It was named for a small village of the same name.
    Preliminary engagements began at the Shevardino Redoubt, and vicinity, on the morning of September 5, 1812. By midnight, the Russians had withdrawn. In the interim, the Shevardino Redoubt had changed hands twice and each side had lost about 8,000 men. By this time, the two armies were just about even, numerically, La Grande Armée having had to garrison many cities and towns along the way and suffered many losses due to disease, desertion and battle casualties. The next day, both commanders addressed the troops. Napoléon told his men,
    "This is a battle you have so long desired! Now, victory depends on you. We have need of it. Victory will give us abundance of supplies, good winter quarters and a prompt return to our motherland. Conduct yourselves as you did at Austerlitz, Friedland, Vitebsk, and Smolensk. Let distant posterity say of each of you, ‘He was present at the great battle beneath the walls of Moscow!”
    "Kutuzov proclaimed,
"Trusting in God, we shall either win or die. Napoléon is the enemy. He will destroy your churches. Think of your wives and children who rely on your protection. Think of your Czar who is watching you. Before the sun has set tomorrow, you will have written on this field the record of your faith and patriotism in the blood of your enemy."
    Napoléon spent the day observing the enemy's position and laying his plans for the final, decisive, battle that he hoped would crush the Russian Army and break the Russian will to resist, as he had previously done with so many other enemies. The Russians spent the day digging in.
    But for the last decade, the Emperor’s health had been fragile. The night before the battle, Napoléon became sick. That day, he was coughing and shivering, suffering from a bladder condition and had swollen legs and an irregular pulse.
    The Emperor's plan involved sending Prince Poniatowski's Poles against the Russian left, which was commanded by Prince Bagration. On his left, he planned to send Prince Eugéne's Italians and the 3rd Reserve Cavalry, under Marquis Emmanuel de Grouchy, to take the Raevsky Redoubt and the village of Borodino.
    The main blow would be delivered by Napoléon's center. That force consisted of the 1st Corps under Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout (who had replaced Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jerome, in that position, in July) which consisted of 83,100 infantry, 11,500 cavalry, and 144 guns; the 3rd Corps led by the red-headed Marshal Michael Ney - called by the Emperor, "the bravest of the brave" - which contained 43,800 infantry, 8,700 cavalry and 71 guns; General Junot's VIII Corps of Westphalians; and finally, the Imperial Guard, commanded by Marshal Duc de Trévise Édouard Mortier, which numbered 51,300 infantry, 16,500 cavalry, commanded by Marshal Duc d’Istria Jean Baptist Bessiéres, and 106 guns. This assault formation stretched for one and a half miles.
    On the morning of September 7, 1812, as Napoléon was riding towards the front he remarked, "It is a trifle cold, but the sun is bright. It is the sun of Austerlitz." Unfortunately, for the Emperor, La Grand Armée was facing that sun.
    By l1:30 a.m., after six hours of battle, the "Bagration Fleches" had been secured by La Grande Armée and General Bagration had received wounds which would prove fatal. General Raevsky assumed his command. By this time, Borodino had been captured by General de Beauharnais and the Raevsky Redoubt won and lost. However, when the Russians retook the Redoubt, they lost the Chief of Artillery of the 1st Army of the West, General Count Alexander Ivanovich Koutaissof. This was a major loss, because the movement of Russian guns ceased.
    Meanwhile, the center of the Russian line, anchored by the village of Semenovskaya, had been cracked, when the village was finally captured after intense fighting. Marshals Murat and Ney sent a request to the Emperor to send in the Young Guard for le coup de grâce, but he refused. A second request arrived at noon, to which the Emperor replied, "Before I commit my reserves, I must be able to see more clearly on my chessboard!"
    About 11:00 a.m., General Atamon Matvey Ivanovich Platov led his Cossacks around the left of La Grand Armée. They were met by a French infantry regiment, and Bavarian and Italian cavalry, which held them up until the Russian artillery opened fire. As the Cossacks were pushing the Allies back, the Vistula Legion (an elite unit of Polish Cavalry) slammed into the Cossacks and forced them back across the Kolocha River. Although the Cossacks had been driven back, the effect of their attack had been to halt the Allied advance in the center, until 2:00 p.m.
    At 2:00 p.m., after a bombardment from 170 cannon, the Emperor ordered the assault on the Raevsky Redoubt renewed. French, Saxon, Polish, and Westphalean cavalry charged the Redoubt. Even though Russian cannon fire tore gaping holes in their ranks, they continued forward. At 60 paces, the Russian infantry opened fire, bringing all but the elite Saxon Garde du Korps to a halt. The Saxons continued over the top of the Redoubt wall, only to be met by Russian steel. But the Saxons were followed by other cavalrymen, inspired by their bravery, and soon the infantry arrived and the Redoubt finally secured. The invaders managed to hold the Redoubt against vicious Russian counterattacks.
    At 5:00 p.m., the Russian generals began to worry that Napoleon would, finally, unleash his still fresh Imperial Guard. And once again, Marshals Ney and Murat, this time joined by Marshal Davout, begged Napoleon, "For God's sake, send up the Guard". But he declined, supported by Marshal Bessiéres, saying, "I will not have my Guard destroyed. When you are 800 leagues (1,500 miles) from France, you do not wreck your last reserve!" However, by not playing that card, the Emperor lost his opportunity to destroy the Imperial Russian Army.
    As darkness fell, Kutuzov withdrew his army a short distance. The one-eyed general had been drinking all day and eating sweet meats and had no idea of the situation. He announced that on the morrow he would drive La Grande Armée from Russian soil. However, the soldiers hadn't eaten all day, and would not be fed that night. Most were exhausted. Notwithstanding these facts, Kutuzov sent the following message to Czar Alexander, in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg, announcing a great Russian victory, "French attacks have been successfully repulsed everywhere, and tomorrow I shall put myself at the head of the army and drive the enemy from the sacred soil of Russia." As a reward, the Czar promptly promoted the General to Field Marshal.
    But, bowing to reality, the next day the Russian Army began its retreat to Moscow. That afternoon, French cavalry, under the command of the King of Naples, Marshal Joachim Murat, began a desultory pursuit which came to nothing. Both sides were totally exhausted. Official Russian records show 43,924 dead, wounded and missing. This includes 23 generals. Allied losses are estimated at between 32,000 - 50,000, including 43 generals.
    Prince Bagration eventually died of his wounds on September 23, 1812, and is buried on the battlefield, at the foot of the main battle monument. To honor him, Stalin, also a Georgian, named the massive Soviet summer offensive of June, 1944, "Operation Bagration."
    La Grand Armée continued its advance to Moscow. The Russian Army abandoned the city within a week After La Grand Armée entered the city, on September 14, 1812, fire broke out and consumed almost all of the city. Where Napoléon thought that he would have a nice warm city in which to endure the dreaded Russian winter, now he had nothing. And, unlike other European rulers, the Czar did not ask for peace. So, on October 18, l812, La Grand Armée began its long, disastrous, retreat, just as the dreaded Russian winter set in. The day before, the first snow had fallen. Eventually, 10,000 soldiers returned to France.
    Field Marshal Kutuzov died in Germany the following year. His body was returned to his homeland, where it is buried at the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin of Kazan on Nevsky Prospeckt in St. Petersburg. Twenty-five years after the battle, statues of both Kutuzov and de Tolly were erected at the Cathedral. Prince Kutuzov was honored by the Soviets, in The Great Patriotic War, by the creation of the "Order of Kutuzov."
    Hopefully, by now, some of the questions have been answered. But what about the connection to Fager's Island? Patience, it's coming!
    While Westerners are taught that the Battle of Borodino resulted in a victory for Napoléon and La Grand Armée (the Russians did retreat), the Russians are taught that Field Marshal Kutuzov was right, and that it was a momentous Russian victory. (Napoléon’s disastrous Russian Campaign led directly to his ultimate defeat and downfall).
    To commemorate the victory, the great Russian composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky wrote his famous 1812 Overture, in 1880, which is played every day at Fager's Island, at sunset. The next time you are enjoying the sunset and a libation on the deck, listen closely to the music, and you'll hear the story. Very softly you will hear the Russian National Anthem. Then the composer weaves into his piece a simple Russian folk song. You will also hear the stirring strains of "The Marseillaise" - the French National Anthem. Of course, it is impossible to miss the boom of the cannon and the crash of the battle. As the Russian Army gains its "victory", the Russian National Anthem is heard again, louder, Finally, are heard the church bells and the firing of the cannon in celebration of that great Russian "victory."  Peace.

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