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War and Military History

What is the Borodino battle's historical significance?

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November 24, 2009 11:56AM

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The greatest battle in the war of 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia took place near the village of Borodino Sept. 7th 1812 and resulted in defeat for the French and still classed as a very great victory by the Russian people. Napoleon was thrown back and out of Russia comletely.

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This was a battle of attrition as intended by Kutosov. The French had about 33,000 casualties as opposed to about 44,000 Russian casualties. France's population was large by the standards of the time hence Napoleon's willingness to accept large losses in battle but France went head to head against Russia whose population was much larger and which was also prepared to accept heavy battle casualties. The result was a blood bath with the French getting the worst of the bargain in a relative sense. From that day Kutosov was convinced that he could bleed the Emperor's army to death during the inevitable later retreat from Moscow and he did.
It may be interesting to note that the great 1812 Overture by Pyotr IIyich Tchaikovsky was commisioned to commemorate the Russian defence of Moscow. Famous for its climatic volley of cannon fire and ringing chimes, depicted as a celebration of church bells which pealed across Russia at their deliverance.

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The statement "Russia whose population was much larger" is a completely false statement. France and Russia were the two most heavily populated states of Europe at the time each encompassing over 30 million souls. Napoleon had a large complicated alliance system, which is part of the reason why The Grand Army completely outnumber the Russian Army. The Russian army was not willing to accept huge losses as indicated by the scorched earth policy employed by De Tolly to preserve the Russian Army.

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Much of Napoleon's strategy for invasions relied on the ability of his armies to forage for food. General Barclay De Tolly of Russia, then overall commander, ordered full retreat to unite the outnumbered Russian Army. He employed a scorched earth policy leaving no forage for the Grand Army. This is very important.

De Tolly was not considered a true Russia and his constant withdrawal made the Tsar very mad and he was replaced with Kutuzov. Kutuzov continued the same policy of retreat and destroy, it wasn't until Borodino that he had enough time to prepare an semblance of a defensive line. The Russians were outnumbered and Napoleon's flair for command allowed the French to drive the Russians from the field. The Russians retreated farther east ward and when Napoleon arrived in Moscow (which was not the capital of Russia, it was St. Petersburg) the mayor had it set fire to. Napoleon realizing the Russians were not going to submit realized he was wasting his time, so he retreated. At this time Kutuzov was able to collect reinforcements and engaged the Grand Army to the point that they were forced to retreat along the same route which they marched in on. This caused many French troops to starve and commit suicide from poor morale as well as surrender. After several disastrous defeats along the retreat the Grand Army was destroyed, and this allowed another Coalition to be formed.

The key significance is it represented the end of Napoleon.