7 September – On this day

The Battle of Borodino, fought on this day in 1812, was a major engagement in the Napoleonic Wars during the French invasion of Russia. The fighting involved around a quarter of a million troops and produced at least 70,000 casualties, making Borodino the single deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars.

In a final attempt to save Moscow, the Russians made a stand near the village of Borodino, west of the town of Mozhaysk. They fortified their positions and dug in, waiting for the French to attack. The Russian right-wing occupied ideal defensive terrain, so the French tried to press the Russian left for much of the battle. The highlight of the fighting became the bloody struggle for the large Raevsky redoubt near the village of Borodino itself. The French managed to capture this redoubt late into the day, gradually forcing the rest of the Russian army to pull back as well.

The exhausted French forces, and the lack of information on the condition of the Russian army, persuaded Napoleon to remain on the battlefield with his army instead of ordering the kind of vigorous pursuit reminiscent of previous campaigns. Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, the only unit on the battlefield that saw no fighting, was not committed to follow-up the retreating Russians, and some historians believe, he lost his one chance to destroy the Russian army and to win the campaign.

Napoleon’s Grande Armée had failed to inflict a decisive defeat. The Russians suffered terrible casualties during the fighting, losing over a third of their army. French losses were also heavy, further exacerbating the logistical difficulties that Napoleon encountered in the campaign. This was the last Russian effort at stopping the French advance on Moscow, which fell a week later; but because the Russian army was not rendered ineffective, the French would have no clear way of bringing Czar Alexander to peace, resulting ultimately in the retreat from Moscow and the defeat of the French invasion.

Battle_of_Borodino_map