The Battle of Borodino
Napoleon Against Kutusov

By Alexander Mikaberidze

Before the Battle of Borodino Napoleon told his soldiers: "let the latest posterity recount with pride your conduct on this day; let them say of you, 'He was at the battle under the walls of Moscow.'"

Borodino was one of the bloodiest clashes of arms in the Napoleonic Wars - a day filled with courage and tenacity.

Some 280,000 men faced each other on September 7, 1812. The Russians in hastily prepared positions, while the French had to attack their enemy and burst through them to get to Moscow.

Neither the Russians, nor the French army and its allies, would give an inch or settle for anything other than victory and that led to some 80,000 casualties.

In Alexander Mikaberidze's terrific examination of the battle - The Battle of Borodino: Napoleon against Kutusov - we are placed right into the middle of the fighting through eyewitness accounts of the soldiers who fought.

We can read of the fear, the anger, the horrendous wounds suffered by high and low-born soldiers, as well as the courage of men who faced some of the most intense artillery fire of any war.

We are also privileged to see how the battle came about through the voices and thoughts of the leaders of the armies and the key decisions that led to the face-to-face slugfest.

And there are some amazing little break out stories including the chance of air power taking a role in the battle of Borodino.

Seriously, Mikaberidze writes of a young German inventor, one Franz Leppich, who thought to attach wings to balloons to give them more control.

He was approached by Russia in early 1812 to work for the tsar and design a whale-shaped balloon capable of lifting 40 men and 12,000 pounds of explosives.

You can imagine just how that could have had a decisive effect at Borodino.

However, after about 120,000 roubles were spent on the project it still wasn't ready and after Borodino the French were veryu close to the workshop which had to be packed up - on to 130 wagons - and moved away.

Then there is the tale of the Spanish cantoniere Florencia who was with the French 61st Line regiment. Amid the carnage of the fleches she searched for wounded friends and was herself injured by a musketball and had to have a finger amputated by surgeon Dominique Larrey.

Mikaberidze has 18 pages of Notes and Sources for this splendid work including a host of Russian sources, and the detailed Appendices have the opposing armies's orders of battle.

The Battle of Borodino: Napoleon against Kutusov is a fabulous study of a battle that helped change the course of history, for after it Napoleon's Grande Armee went on to Moscow and then was destroyed in the terrible winter retreat back to the West.

Thanks to Alexander Mikaberidze readers of his great account can say "we, too, were at the battle under the walls of Moscow.''

- Richard Moore





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